Fort McMurray needs plumbers, says Alberta government

The Alberta government will be spending up to $1 million on an apprenticeship plumber training program based out of Fort McMurray to train skilled labourers for the rebuild of the wildfire-ravaged city.

Province promises up to $1 million to help train plumbers for the oil sands capital

The Alberta government says it needs plumbers to help with the Fort McMurray rebuild. (Pixabay)

The Alberta government says Fort McMurray needs plumbers to rebuild homes destroyed by May's wildfire.

"You have 2,400 buildings that you need to reconstruct," said Alberta Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt. "That places a significant demand on the availability of people with plumbing training."

May's wildfire decimated some communities in Fort McMurray. Building for many wildfire victims won't start until spring or a bit earlier, due to a lengthy insurance claims process, municipal permit problems, provincial building restrictions and now a winter that makes it too cold to pour foundations.

Concerns that the community will not have enough affordable labour have been expressed by the oil sands industry, builders, the municipality and the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce.

'Every house needs toilets'

Fort McMurray's Keyano College has cited plumbing as one of the critical needs needed for a smooth wildfire rebuild.

"One of the components that we need to focus on is plumbing because that's going to be a high demand area," said college vice president of academics Peter Lawlor. "Every house needs plumbing. Every house needs toilets."

Lawlor said Fort McMurray's so-called "boom and bust" economy means it needs to prepare for labour surges. "It's lessons learned from the past," he said.

Keyano College will receive up to $1 million from the Alberta government for its first-ever plumbing program. (Keyano College)

Contractors in some Canadian provinces and territories have complained when Fort McMurray has increased demand it creates labour droughts elsewhere. That's because higher salaries offered in the oil capital lure talent.

That drives up costs everywhere, said Charles Iggulden, president of Fort McMurray's Construction Association. Alberta needs to spend money to train unemployed workers during slow economic periods, he added.

"We've always promoted during the down times, like now, train for the up times," Iggulden said.

$1 million for plumbers

The province intends to spend up to $1 million on Fort McMurray's first-ever formal plumbing training apprenticeship program at Keyano College.

The college hopes the money will help current plumbing apprentices in the community while attracting new candidates. 

The program will use mobile training labs and online instruction tailored to the hours students and employers are available.

Lawlor said the program's flexible design is important because the college doesn't want to pull students away from the rebuild effort.

"Remember we want to support the employers too. Sometimes it's a hardship to have apprentices leave the work site for four weeks or eight weeks at a time," Lawlor said. "And so we are looking at a model where we can bring them in for shorter periods of time."

Neither the college or Schmidt could say specifically how many plumbers Fort McMurray needs, but both hope the program trains enough to fill the gap. 

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