Skills Canada announced that TransCanada Corporation has been signed as the Premier Sponsor for the 2012 Skills Canada National Competition on March 28.
According to Skills Canada CEO Shaun Thorson, the involvement of TransCanada, as well as Canadian oil company Cenovus, helps validate the annual contest, which attracts over 500 secondary, postsecondary and apprenticeship students working toward careers in about forty skilled trades and technology fields.
"They see the value in trying to create some discussion and raise the profile of these occupations," Thorson said of TransCanada, suggesting that their name alone can help Skills Canada raise the profile of the competition and address the skilled labour shortage, particularly if they can get the message to young people outside of their traditional audience.
"I think we are well known in those parts of the education system that are working with youth that may be interested in pursuing trades and technology [careers]," Thorson explained. "But I think we can make a larger impact on the education system overall and also with the general public.
"Encourage more of a discussion in the general public about the value of skilled trades," he added. "And that we should be presenting as many options as possible to our sons and daughters and young Canadians in general so that they are very informed when they go to make that decision about what they want to do for the rest of their life."
That can include attracting young people from parts of the country - such as Ontario and Quebec - where recruiting for the oil and gas industry hasn't gone as well as in other jurisdictions.
"When you have larger companies involved, and start to involve some pan Canadian companies, some national companies, international companies, I think people do take notice of what's happening," said Thorson.
"With it being a national event," he continued, "I think it provides us an opportunity to communicate that message throughout the country, that these activities are taking place and here's the reason why. And that there are shortages - skilled trade shortages - particularly in western Canada and more specifically in Alberta. And that that may present opportunities for people across the country."
"We're definitely interested in workers not just in Alberta, but all across Canada," said Sian Weaver, Community Investment Advisor with TransCanada. "Because we are all across Canada as well, as well as the [United States] and Mexico And we're very rurally based. We might have a head office here in Calgary, but if you look at our assets, we're in small communities all across the country.
"A very rural demographic is important to us in ensuring that those skills are located rurally. Northern Alberta. Aboriginal communities in particular are very important to us. But also in rural communities all across the landscape in Canada."
"From our perspective, it's not so much that you would necessarily have an Ontario recruiting strategy or things like that," added company spokesperson Shawn Howard. "The reason people come to join our company is the reputation of it, the stability that it can provide for them."
"And the kind of work," said Weaver.
"It's not about a specific region where you have a certain recruiting strategy that would be different from another," Howard continued. "It's we are TransCanada, here's what we have to offer, here's how we'll help you develop personally and professionally over time. Because we want you to grow in your skills and what you can offer."
That focus on people essentially sums up TransCanada's reason for sponsoring the 2012 Skills Canada National Competition, which follows their sponsorship of a similar event, WorldSkills Calgary 2009.
"That was a really wonderful experience for us," said Weaver.
"I think the main reason why we get involved with Skills Canada," she continued, "is [that] a future skilled workforce in the area of techs and trades is really critical to TransCanada as a company. The people aspect - people are the biggest assets for this company. It's what makes things go.
"And it's very important to us that we make sure that we have that future workforce that are highly trained and have those skills to be able to perform and be able to meet the criteria we're going to need on future projects."
"It will definitely help them in their business in that we will have some of the top skilled people from across the country at the competition, which is a great opportunity for that industry as a whole," echoed Thorson.
"To really connect with those young people and sell their business, sell them on why these are valuable careers and why they should consider these as occupations," he added.
"We need to make sure that we're on their radar," said Weaver.
Howard noted that TransCanada also wants to use the opportunity to show that they aren't just a pipeline company concerned with transporting oil and natural gas, but also an energy infrastructure company with a wider scope.
"Thirty-three per cent of the power that we deliver comes from alternative and renewable resources," he said. "We've got the largest wind farm in Canada. It's located in eastern Canada. We've just announced a huge solar [energy] deal."
This year marks the eighteenth national skills competition and Thorson believes the program has had a positive impact throughout its history.
"We do surveys every year of the participants onsite, and also the visitors that come and see the competition, and from a visitor's standpoint it always ranks very high in terms of increasing their positive view of careers in skilled trades and technology areas," he said.
"We definitely improve the profile and the perception of the opportunities that are available in those careers. And that young people are able to access more career information from visiting the competition site and [meeting] with some of the partners that are there [that can] provide information, guidance and direction on how people can pursue those careers.
"We've seen continued participation and increased participation from partners, which is obviously important."
The participation of companies like TransCanada is important to the continuing success of the competition, according to Thorson.
"Just the contribution itself allows us to provide a better experience for everyone that's involved," he said. "So, making sure that we are able to access equipment and material and put together a significant contest set up that provides the competitors a very real and significant challenge as people working in their specific industries."
The event also includes Try-a-Trade demonstrations where visitors can try their hand at tasks such as building a brick wall or wiring a circuit board, as well as a career fair.
"We will have a booth there," said Weaver, adding that an aboriginal group will also be there to provide an aboriginal employment perspective.
"We definitely want to encourage students to get involved - heavily involved - in the techs and trades," she continued. "And in particular we're also focused on the aboriginal component of that. So, we'll have a strong presence there as far as promoting aboriginal employment in the techs and trades.
"But that is not our only component that we're focused on. We're focused on generally making sure that students understand the credentials that you need to get involved in the techs and trades careers, but also how to move forward in those areas as well. And what happens when they have finished. Where do they go from there? What are the opportunities? And so we'll be prepared to talk about apprenticeships and all that type of thing."
Fields represented at the competition include traditional trades such as carpenters, welders, electricians and plumbers, manufacturing trades such as precision machining and industrial millwright, information technology trades such as web design and software applications, and various trades in the hospitality industry.
Potential competitors are identified by Skills Canada through regional and provincial competitions across Canada and invited to participate in the contest.
The 2012 Skills Canada National Competition will be held May 13-16 in Edmonton, Alberta.