Boom time in Sarnia for skilled trades

Nova’s $2.2-billion construction project includes a new polyethylene facility at 804 Rokeby Line and an expansion of the existing Corunna “cracker” unit to provide ethylene feedstock to the new plant. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Union leaders are hunting across Canada for skilled workers as industrial construction ramps up in the Chemical Valley.

At least 600 tradespeople are on-site at the $2.2-billion Nova Chemicals project, which includes a new polyethylene plant and expansion of the Corunna “cracker” unit.

The Nova project is expected to create 150 full-time manufacturing jobs and up to 1,400 construction jobs, with plant startup slated for late 2021.

A planned maintenance shutdown at Imperial Oil next year will require hundreds more skilled tradespeople.

Those and other projects are generating more activity than Sarnia has seen in at least a decade, said John Swart, head of the Sarnia-Lambton Building and Construction Trades Council.

“(We’re) currently looking right across the country,” said Swart, who is also business manager of the 300-member Insulators Union, Local 95.

“And I know the carpenters, pipefitters, boilermakers are all in the same boat right now. This is going to be a very busy year. It’s good for the whole community.”

Regional projects are also impacting the local labour market, said Laura Greaves, executive director of the Sarnia-Lambton Workforce Development Board (SLWDB).

Bruce Power near Kincardine, Ont. begins a 13-year replacement of major components in January, and construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor and Detroit will need workers until 2023.

What’s more, a sizable percentage of the local workforce is approaching retirement age, creating even more job opportunities for people entering skilled trades, she said.

The SLWDB is putting the finishing touches on a report due out in January assessing the local employment situation, Greaves said.

Other workforce development boards across Ontario are doing the same thing after the Ford government scrapped the Ontario College of Trades last October.

“I’m hearing that, yes, there are a lot of openings and some difficulty filling those openings,” Greaves said.

“So the discussion is, how are we promoting these jobs in the skilled trades right now? What could we be doing better?”