THUNDER BAY, ONT. — More than 300 exhibitors were on hand at the Central Canada Resource Expo (Cen-Can Expo 2022) last week in Thunder Bay promoting their products and services while recruiting workers.
Central Canada’s largest natural resource sector trade show and conference at the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition grounds kicked off with a conference hosted by the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC).
It had more than 100 representatives from the natural resource sector come together to discuss workforce development gaps and opportunities.
Glenn Dredhart, president of Canadian Trade-Ex and organizer of the expo, says the expo provided a perfect opportunity for the meeting.
“Because a lot of the mining operators are here at this trade show, including forestry operations (Resolute Forest Products), it made it easier to bring everyone together,” he said. “We had 100, top-notch company representatives that attended that meeting . . ., which was all about careers, and opportunities and how to try to overcome our challenges and our barriers by making sure that the industry has the help they need to push it over that goal line.”
The conference uncovered the critical worker shortage and examined training, recruitment and retaining solutions.
Andrew Kane, manager of natural resources business development with the CEDC, says the labour shortage, which is spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic layoffs, closures and retirement, is only going to “get tougher” with more baby boomers retiring and a growing number of new mines that are going to be built in Ontario.
“It’s going to be exponential,” Kane said. “We brought these companies together to identify their immediate, short-term and long-term needs and put together a collective strategy to recruit, train and retain employees. How do we collectively address the labour shortage now?”
Kane added that there is a major focus on the Indigenous sector.
Dave Bradley, the Indigenous business development and community relations officer with Outland, has been successful in creating a list of 250 trained people and has become a bit of an expert on what it takes to successfully recruit and retain Indigenous workers.
“We have to do things differently,” Bradley said. “Whatever systems people used in the years gone by, it doesn’t work. We need to understand that Indigenous people are coming out of an Indigenous worldview. We try to make the workplace fit the worker instead of making the worker fit the workplace. So that’s sort of a simple way of kind of delineating what the goal is.”
Author Sandi Boucher, a facilitator with Reconciliation Works Canada, attended the conference and offered a series of factors that can offset Indigenous recruitment and retention, which she says has been an issue for years.
“It’s not because employers weren’t trying, but often because they didn’t realize what the challenges were on our side of the fence and with what we found difficult,” Boucher said. “Essentially, I gave them four points to consider suggesting ways of how they’re going to help us deal with these issues. If they can do that, their chances of retention go way up.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of people strolled through a maze of tents that were surrounded by massive heavy equipment; each vehicle shiny, new and available for purchase. Every tent contained dozens of exhibitors on the CLE grounds.
Matthew Dupuis, manager of Indigenous relations with Northern Mat and Bridge, says his local company builds temporary access roads by working hand-in-hand with the drilling companies on the mine’s exploration plans.
“Where it doesn’t make sense to build permanent roads, we can get them into the spot they have to drill and get them out without having to build a permanent road or have to worry about any environmental impact,” Dupuis said.
The expo is a first for Thunder Bay and Dredhart says they will be back next year. He says many of the exhibitors are also scoping out Thunder Bay as a potential spot for their organizations.
“There’s a boom — we call it the mining boom, here in Thunder Bay, and there’s a boom going on right now in the mining industry,” Dredhart said.