Alberta's new economic diversification plan could provide much-needed apprenticeship opportunities for the province's tradespeople, according to one organization that represents 75,000 construction, maintenance and fabrication workers. 

Walter Fraleigh, executive director of the Building Trades of Alberta, believes the government will jumpstart employment and training opportunities for construction workers with its $500-million royalty credit program for new petrochemical plants.

"This announcement by the government today, it's good timing. It's the right announcement at the right time for us," he said.

The government said the program has the potential to see two or three new facilities built in Alberta, with shovels in the ground as early as the end of this year. 

Future of skilled trades uncertain

Fraleigh said tradespeople from across the country have traditionally come to Alberta to find jobs, but with the economic downturn, many have returned home to other provinces. 

"It's probably one of my most difficult challenges that I think we see in regards to our industry, is how we're going to keep the current cohort of apprentices that we've been cultivating over the last couple years and ensure that they've got jobs so that they can finish their apprenticeships and be the skilled trades people that we need going forward," he said.

"We had a big gap in the '80s when we lost our economy back then, and we certainly wouldn't want to see a repeat of that," he said. 

"This cyclical, volatile price of oil has always given us grief, no matter what," he said.

"I think this is one of those times where we see that there's certainly an aging demographic in our workforce, and we need to be prepared for when the price of oil will recover, eventually. We'll be back in the thick of things."

A political move, says economist

University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe, however, was critical of the new plan's ability to bring widespread benefits.

He said the government could have done more to encourage investment by reducing the deficit or by altering its fiscal policy.

"A lot of research shows that lower income taxes, and lower corporate income taxes in particular, does have a very positive effect on investment in a province. They could've done that," Tombe said. 

"The benefits would have been more widely dispersed across the economy, not as visible, and so perhaps not as politically sellable, but far better."