Research highlights critical needs for an increased shipbuilding and repair workforce

By BCShippingNews
July 7 2013
Employment in the B.C. shipbuilding and repair sector is projected to increase by 47 per cent by 2016 and by another 15 per cent through 2020...

Following the announcement of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) contract to Vancouver Shipyards in October 2011, the BC Government established a BC Shipbuilding and Repair Workforce Table to set about ensuring B.C. would be able to satisfy workforce requirements in the shipbuilding and repair sector. The Table — whose work and research was funded through the Resource Training Organization and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training under the Canada-BC Labour Market Development Agreement — was charged with confirming human capital requirements associated with the NSPS; reviewing labour supply projects and existing and planned training programs to identify opportunities and gaps; and developing a strategy that would provide guidance for post-secondary training investments.

The resulting draft report — Towards 2020: BC Shipbuilding and Repair Industry Workforce Strategy — highlighted key strategies that would be able to guide workforce development through to 2020. It also recognized the need for ongoing co-ordinated efforts in skills training and, to this end, the B.C. Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Board (SSRB) was formed.

With an impressive membership list that includes senior representatives from industry (such as Chair Mark Wilson, VP, Engineering at BC Ferries, and Vice-Chair John Shaw, VP of Business Development at Seaspan), labour, and government, the purpose of the SSRB is to provide industry leadership, co-ordination and integration of cross-industry workforce development, technology and process development, and industry development projects. This includes finalizing and implementing an industry-wide Shipbuilding and Repair Industry Human Resource Strategy, using the Workforce Table’s Strategy as a starting point.

One important result of the Table’s work was the labour market research — the most comprehensive analysis of the B.C. shipbuildng and repair labour market and training needs completed in decades — conducted as part of the R.A. Malatest & Associates Labour Market Analysis Report. It showed significant growth in new job openings in the industry as well as the directly associated metal plate and fabrication sector and projected almost $10 billion in new shipbuilding and ship repair in B.C. to 2020, including $3.3 billion that is outside of the NSPS work.

The Malatest report provided a baseline of shipbuilding and repair employment (for 2012) as well projected employment, job openings (factoring in employment growth and retirements) and projected skills gaps as well as training gaps. The following information is taken directly from their summary report.

2012 benchmark

Based on a survey of public and commercial shipyard employers, B.C.’s shipbuilding and repair workforce was estimated at 3,200 workers, of which about two-thirds were employed in commercial operations located in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island/Coast. The workforce is dominated by skilled trades workers (66 per cent) and workers in marine-specific trades (14 per cent), such as shipwrights and marine fitters. “Skilled trades” refers to non-marine-specific trades needed by many industries (e.g. carpenter, millwright, welder, etc.).

The Malatest research included an analysis of the associated metal fabrication workforce that supplies products and services to B.C.’s shipbuilding and repair sector. Manufacturers located in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island/Coast will be particularly impacted by the shipbuilding sector’s new build program. Many of the workers employed in metal fabrication require skills and training similar to the shipbuilding & repair workforce. Malatest estimates the workforce to be 3,198 in 2012; combined with related metal fabrication jobs, the 2012 workforce is estimated at more than 4,600 workers (Table 1).

Projected employment

Employment in the B.C. shipbuilding and repair sector is projected to increase by 47 per cent by 2016 and by another 15 per cent through 2020. The workforce will expand by almost 2,000 workers over this period. This translates into an average annual growth rate of 6.9 per cent — significantly higher than the provincial average annual growth of 1.6 per cent.

Metal fabricators located in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island/Coast are expected to add 750 new jobs by 2016 and another 250 jobs through 2020. The combined workforce is projected to exceed 7,600 workers by 2020 (Table 2).

Based on employment growth and replacement demand due to retirements, nearly 2,900 job openings are projected by 2016 and more than 4,200 job openings by 2020 in both the shipbuilding and repair and metal fabrication sectors.

The vast majority of job openings will occur in the skilled trades, marine trades and manufacturing occupations. Nearly 2,400 job openings are projected for skilled trades workers by 2020 — an average of 265 openings each year between 2012 and 2020 (Table 3).

Projected gaps

Based on the provincial government’s occupational projection model, skills gaps are projected for all shipbuilding and repair occupations through 2020. Gaps will be greatest in the skilled trades and marine trades, owing to the large share of the industry workforce that these occupational categories represent.

Filling these requirements will be particularly challenging in the near term, as the majority of employment growth is projected to occur up to 2016. Continued reliance on alternative sources of labour, such as hiring from other companies and/or industries, is no longer considered a sustainable long-term strategy as other industries will be facing many of the same recruitment challenges for most of the same occupations.

Meeting the demand for skilled workers is challenged by several factors, including a lack of training and upgrading opportunities for new and existing workers. With the exception of apprenticeship training in support of the skilled trades, the shipbuilding and repair sector has managed without the benefit of public training support in most other occupations, including the marine trades, mid-management production, and critical function and support occupations.

Although provincial education and training programs exist that could potentially help meet skill requirements, very few are specific to the marine sector. The importance of formal training and upgrading specific to the marine sector cannot be overstated. Skills gaps are most challenging in those occupations where training programs are lacking or non-existent. Education and training gaps are a major risk to the shipbuilding and repair sector going forward, particularly as it prepares to take on the challenge of building new vessels under the NSPS.

The new build program is considered a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to train and develop a shipbuilding workforce capable of serving the industry well beyond 2030. While training and education is a key concern for the sector, employers and unions cannot ignore the need to also take action on attraction, recruitment, retention and career development strategies to ensure a growing, sustainable sector.