We take a look at the opportunities for young engineers in Canada - what skills employers are after and what kinds of engineering projects are planned or currently underway.
In terms of land mass Canada is the second biggest country in world after Russia, but its population is only just over half that of the UK at 35.7 million. It comprises the three territories of Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon in the north and ten provinces. The majority of people live in the provinces in the southern part of the country, within a few hundred kilometres of the North American border. It is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and managed to escape the worst of the global recession. As a major exporter of energy though, earlier this year it found itself ‘technically’ slipping into recession with the economy shrinking in the first two quarters following the fall in oil price. The downturn proved to be short lived though with GDP starting to rise in the summer and the Conference Board of Canada reporting a third consecutive monthly increase in GDP in August. This growth was driven by the manufacturing, mining, quarrying and oil and gas sectors. While the signs are that the economy is stabilising, in November the research organisation warned that business investment continues to be weak.
What’s going on there?
October saw the Liberal Party win a surprise majority, ending a decade of rule by the Conservatives. The new government has reportedly pledged to invest around $17 billion in public infrastructure improvements over the next four years.
“So we are waiting to hear how that campaign promise is implemented,” says Brent Gibson, practice lead, communications at Engineers Canada, the national organisation of the 12 engineering regulators that license the country’s 280,000 members of the profession.
A number of major public and privately funded projects are on the agenda in Canada, which will generate jobs and considerable opportunities for engineers. Work is underway on the Site C Clean Energy Project, a third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in northeast British Columbia (BC) by BC Hydro. It will be a source of clean, renewable and cost-effective electricity to the province for more than 100 years. Preparation work, which includes upgrading public roads and building access roads, is taking place and the project will be completed in 2024.
It is one of a number of hydroelectric projects, with others at Muskrat Falls on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador, which will deliver energy to the province of New Foundland as well as Labrador, and Romaine Complex on the Romaine River north of Harve-St-Pierre, Quebec. Meanwhile, a new bridge is planned for the St Lawrence River to replace Champlain’s Bridge in Montreal, one of the country’s busiest water crossings. Planned road projects include construction of the final southwest section of the Calgary Ring Road and reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange expressway in Montreal, both with an estimated completion date of 2020.
Vancouver Airport also has a ten year improvement and expansion programme, while there is a proposed three-berth container terminal to increase capacity at Roberts Bank port in Delta, British Columbia.
Alongside this planned and ongoing activity, Canada’s oil and natural gas industry continues to be active in 12 of the 13 provinces and is the single largest private sector investor in the country. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry invested $81 billion in capital projects in 2014. Alberta’s oil sands are the third biggest crude oil reserve in the world (after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela) and are well known, but the association also highlights the offshore projects in New Foundland and Labrador, where another will come on stream in 2017, as well as Nova Scotia.
What skills are in demand and where?
Gibson sums up the answer to this question simply: “All types of engineers in all geographies can expect to be highly employable.”
More specifically, he says over the next five years the organisation expects to see a high level of demand for the following: civil engineers in BC and Manitoba, mechanical engineers in Manitoba, electrical and electronics engineers in Newfoundland and Labrador, manufacturing engineers in Manitoba, metallurgical and materials engineers in BC, mining engineers in BC, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, petroleum engineers in BC and aerospace engineers in Alberta and Manitoba. He adds that management level engineers will be required in a number of provinces.
With many of its Baby Boomer engineers retiring, however, Canada is approaching an engineering skills gap. Engineers Canada’s labour market study for 2015 in particular highlights a demand for civil, mechanical, electrical and electronic engineers as well as computer engineers. It explains that Canadian universities, especially Ontario and Quebec, are granting an increasing number of engineering degrees to Canadian and international students. With economic activity shifting to Western Canada, it also moves the demand for engineers in that direction.
Engineers Canada wants to highlight the growing importance of inter-provincial migration for engineers as well as federal government immigration policies such as the Express Entry programme, which aims to streamline the international migration of engineers to meet the country’s future workforce requirements.
“Our late career engineers are retiring. These individuals cannot be replaced by newly trained engineers,” says Gibson. “We have 279 accredited engineering programmes across 43 institutions in Canada and largely train our engineers. However, we have many engineers who were trained abroad and we will continue to utilise this resource in the future.”
Engineers Canada has a roadmap on its website for those engineers considering a move to Canada. This can be found at http://newcomers.engineerscanada.ca/.