Humboldt and surrounding area is feeling the pressure of what appears to be a labour shortage. It’s a phenomenon that has many areas of the province and the country scrambling to attract workers. What makes the Humboldt regional scene more acute is the expected flurry of job activity with industrial development, particularly around the BHP Jansen mine project and its attendant infrastructure.
That’s the reason for a job fair jointly presented by BHP and the Humboldt and District Chamber of Commerce. The fair, held on May 11 at St. Peter’s College in Muenster, attracted around 40 local and national business participants including BHP and other mining and construction interests. Financial institutions, training centres, transportation companies, agricultural vendors and retail outlets all had the same goal - attracting people willing to work.
For months on the SaskJobs web-site, the Humboldt region has rung up well over 200 asks, sometimes approaching 300 at a time. It’s a situation that’s not likely to change, says Rodney Antonichuk, senior account executive with the Employer Services Branch for the Ministry of Immigration and Career Training.
“The labour market has changed, so myself and my colleagues in the Ministry are attempting to work with employers to say, listen - there’s a tsunami coming. There’s a labour market change, and we need to be creative. We need to be thinking outside of the box, and we need to be proactive and not reactive.”
As part of the tool kit for reinforcing the work complement, immigration will be a key, says Antonichuk. The Ministry has done analysis on the skill sets most sought after in the province and it works with immigration officials to match those skills with people who want to come to Saskatchewan.
Meanwhile federal and provincial officials are working to streamline the entry of people leaving Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict. Employers like Doepker Industries in Annaheim, a homegrown manufacturing success story, are in search of bodies who are willing to on-board the skills needed to support their venture. The company is riding a wave of growth, both at its grain bulker plant in Annaheim and its gravel trailer division in Moose Jaw. That plant has gone from a skeleton crew to tripling its production, says Courtney Stammen, human resources officer with Doepkers.
The growth of Doepkers and other local industries and businesses are also contributing to a highly competitive labour market. Doepkers has recently hired 15 new employees and is seeking an additional ten.
“It’ll definitely impact what we can attract for quality of workers, but our main focus right now with hiring so many people is even if they don’t have the quality now, we’ll train them,” says Stammen.
That’s a repeated refrain with other employers at the fair. In the banking world, growth continues, but RBC Branch Manager Regan Mikush admits that the COVID pandemic has altered the world of work. As some employees went remote for work, others moved into a hybrid model, while others stayed the course to provide continued in-centre service. That migration has had somewhat of an impact as has the need for part-time and casual workers as opposed to full time employees. Mikush also notes the rural environment presents both unique opportunities and challenges. However, for the right candidates, he agrees that the skills new employees can pick up through the bank’s in-house training will open doors.
“Right now, we’re focusing on on-boarding people as they come into the stream. We do understand that everybody has different talents. People may say ‘how do I get the skills for banking?’ We train on the job. We have courses and training to help you grow through your RBC career.”
Growth is also the watchword with Discovery Ford who have just opened their new body shop at their west Humboldt location. Their growth comes at a time when they too have experienced the pronounced labour market shift.
“About two years ago, we were in a situation where we didn’t need people,” explained Chris Parish, Discovery Ford’s general manager. “You’d put out an ad for someone and you’d get 20 or 30 resumes overnight. Now we need people - we’re growing obviously with the new body shop. We need people in our detail shop, our tow truck, our service department. If I put out an ad now, and I don’t see anyone.”
Full time local employees seeking work are at a premium, admits Parish. He sees it as a combination of retirements, growth and expansion, and a need for some workers with specialized training that have combined to create the employment situation.
With the influx of employers around the mine’s development, employee retention may become an issue as workers with traditional area employers may migrate to new opportunities. Rodney Antonichuk paints the picture.
“A lot of people who are working in, let’s say Humboldt, in the retail area, there’s going to be some better paying jobs out at the mine site, so they’ll move on. Now you’ll have your small business in Humboldt going - ‘hold on here, now I can’t open my doors or I have to work 12 hours a day because I don’t have enough staff’.” It’s a scenario that serves as the catalyst for a job fair.
Consequently, participants at the job fair eagerly greeted those who came through the doors of St. Peter’s College gymnasium. For Humboldt Chamber Director Brent Fitzpatrick, that spelled a win.
“I’ve been really pleased with the day. We had kind of a goal for what we wanted for the entire six hours of this job fair, and we hit the 50 percent mark after an hour and a half.”
Both the vendors and job seekers had a chance to meet and greet at a time when businesses and industries are having to engage prospective workers in new and different ways.
A similar job fair, offered by BHP, was slated for May 12 at Muskowekwan First Nation.