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Regional jobs czar to be based here

B.C. is basing a senior official in Terrace to prepare the local labour force to deal with an expanding regional economy.

THE PROVINCIAL government is basing a senior official in Terrace to better help prepare the  local labour force to deal with an expanding regional economy.

It’s part of a $540,000 package containing a locals-first focus as major economic projects either get underway or are about to start.

The core of the package is organizing training programs to provide the kind of skilled workers needed by companies as their projects develop.

It’s something that’s not been done before in B.C. and, in part, takes in lessons learned from northeastern BC where a burgeoning oil and gas industry created a demand for skilled workers, says provincial jobs minister Pat Bell.

His ministry is providing the money to BC Hydro who will do the actual hiring of the official.

Speaking while in Terrace last week, Bell said he wants to avoid having to bring in outside workers while people within the region remain unemployed.

“Our first responsibility is to ensure local people are employed and by that I generally mean from here and then from B.C.,” said Bell.

“Once you’ve done that, we would then look at pan-Canadian,” said Bell.

He said the task of the person to be hired is to examine the skills needed as companies set up shop in the region and then develop a labour force to meet those demands.

That would involve building partnerships with training facilities as well as the companies themselves, Bell continued.

“Do we have sufficient resources at the [Northwest Community] college to meet the needs,” Bell said in outlining one key consideration.

The official, who will be hired under a contract that expires in Oct. 2013, will have a rank equivalent to that of a senior position in the provincial civil service.

It means, said Bell, the person will have the authority and flexibility to move quickly when required.

“That person needs to have a level of influence to make a quick decision,” he added.

Bell said it will be his job to supply the political muscle to help the official out when required in dealing with large companies, adding that the task of training a northwest workforce needs to be done cooperatively by all concerned.

“I have access to those levels,” said Bell of chief executives of large companies.

Bell did acknowledge there aren’t enough people in the region to fill the demand for labour should projects be built as planned.

The same conclusion was reached by a committee set up last fall by BC Hydro to examine the economic development impacts from the construction of its Northwest Transmission Line.

That committee broadened its scope to look at the range of real and potential northwest projects, up to and including LNG plants at Kitimat and the already-started rebuild of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.

It quickly concluded there was a lack of northwest skills training facilities and a lack of a trained northwest workforce.

“Local people are available to fill many of the jobs, but a mismatch often exists between the skills of the potential workers and the needs of employers,” read one portion of a study put together by the committee.

The committee conservatively estimates that, based on projections, large industrial projects will create 4,000 direct and indirect jobs from now until 2021.

Optimistically, the number could grow to 5,700 or as high as 12,000, the committee’s study continued.

The official hired will report to the committee which is already sketching out a work plan.

Already in the works is a public relations campaign aimed at attracting back home those northwest residents who left to find work elsewhere when the woods industry collapsed.

The target list of communities for this initiative includes Fort McMurray.

Also being planned is a fall conference to bring together companies and training facilities.

Bell said the emphasis will be on increasing skill levels to meet not only construction but operating jobs afterward.

“Something really, really, really good can come out of this or we can just be OK,” said Bell.

“We don’t want to miss the opportunity for something quite unique.”