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August 2012

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Canadian Building Trades Signs Milestone Agreement with Oil Sands Companies

The multi-billion dollar oil sands industry has transformed the vast, forested valleys of Northern Alberta into one of Canada's biggest booming regions, revolutionizing the North American energy industry and boosting the Canadian economy in these tough times globally.

The area is home to vast deposits of buried bitumen, which, once extracted from the ground, is processed into synthetic crude oil and sold on markets in the United States.

The oil sands are responsible for nearly half a million jobs across the country, say industry and union leaders, and they predict more to come in the future.

And to meet the need of developing a new generation of skilled tradesmen for the oil sands, the Canadian Building Trades and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers entered into a joint agreement June 1, which commits both parties to increase training opportunities, while making it easier for existing skilled workers across North America to connect with job opportunities in the oil sands.

"Every billion dollars of oil sands investment means 2,000 to 3,000 construction jobs," says Robert Blakely, director of Canadian Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO. "The demand for skilled workers will only grow."

But the graying of the baby-boom generation, which currently makes up much of the construction work force, means Canada is facing an imminent skilled workers shortage that could grind the industry to a halt.

According to the federal government's Construction Sector Council, by 2018 more than 360,000 construction workers will have exited the work force, creating a 200,000-worker gap that will have to be filled if the energy industry is to keep growing.

"We are facing a massive baby boom crunch, and getting young people into the trades must be a priority if Canada is going to thrive," Blakely says.

"Canada's skilled trades unions train 80 percent of construction apprentices, including 40,000 trained annually in concert with the oil sands industry and our employer partners," says Blakely. "With co-operation between the companies and unions, the oil sands will be Canada's skilled trades training super-highway."

Under the agreement, both parties will invest millions in new training facilities and recruitment efforts to beef up the building trades' already existing training infrastructure.

The joint partnership will also lobby provincial and federal officials on issues related to work force availability, supporting policies that make it easier for construction workers in Canada and abroad to make the move to Alberta.

"We will be able speak as one on some key issues, getting the attention of politicians across party lines," says Blakely.

For Edmonton Local 424, which is one of the main locals working in the oil sands, the agreement means a formal recognition of the vital role unions play in industry.

"It raises our profile and recognizes the important work we do," says Local 424 Assistant Business Manager Ken Mackenzie. "The building trades are No.1 when it comes to delivering the training the industry needs, and now by coming together will supply qualified skilled trades workers across Canada and the United States."

"Guaranteeing a steady supply of skilled construction workers is vital for not only for the oil sands but the entire Canadian economy," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming. "This is an important step in making sure we will continue to have a first-class work force, both now and in the future."