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Boilermakers - Changing with the Times

The following article was published by the Ontario Construction Secretariat on the group’s website in September. The OCS represents the collective interests of the unionized construction industry in Ontario’s industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector. Reprinted with permission.

The boilermakers union has been in Canada for more than 100 years.

They have, and continue to primarily produce steel fabrications, working on projects ranging from bridges to blast furnaces to construction of mining equipment.  The job remains physically demanding, requiring a mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity while performing precise work to exacting standards – often in extreme weather conditions.

The job hasn’t really changed.

However, the International Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) Canada says it’s important for the union to change with the times.  Joseph Maloney says changing industry demands and technology have led to some exciting new opportunities, especially where training is concerned.

Recently, the IBB has developed a phone app for boilermakers that is able to safely store all of their training certificates.  Members no longer have to carry their documentation with them or risk forgetting or losing them.

“We have more than 60% of members registered and using the phone app”, says Maloney.  All they have to do is open the app and their certificates are right there.  The technology definitely eases the onboarding for contractors”.

More than 60% of members are also registered on the union’s website providing them with access to a training program entitled Boilermaker Virtual Campus.  It was developed almost ten years ago and today offers 18 different subjects.  Almost 10,000 boilermakers have used the Virtual Campus since it was developed.

Training plays a large part within the IBB.  There are approximately 2,000 boilermakers in Ontario and many of them work at either the Darlington or Bruce Nuclear facilities.  As the nuclear industry continues to evolve, it means additional training is required to equip boilermakers with the necessary safety disciplines they will need when working on a nuclear job site.

“This includes training for fall arrest and working in confined spaces”, says Maloney. “It will provide the nearly 400 boilermakers with nuclear qualified worker status which the industry demands.”

As for the future of the nuclear industry and indeed the energy sector, “it’s looking good for at least the next ten years,” says Jason Campbell, Labour Relations Manager of Aecon Energy.  Aecon is presently working on the Re-tube and Feeder Replacement project at Darlington – a $2.75-billion joint venture (JV) with SNC-Lavalin.  Work on the project began last year and will take 10 years.  Campbell says there are other industry opportunities forthcoming including the Bruce Nuclear refurb and new construction in Sarnia.  So while there will be work for boilermakers, Campbell says the question is “will there be boilermakers to do the work?

“Aecon is not immune to the realities of the construction industry when it comes to the shortage of skilled workers, says Campbell.  While we do see steady work ahead, we are concerned about manpower availability”.

To ensure such issues are addressed, Aecon works with its union partners away from the jobsite.

“We have a seat on the board of directors in addition to working groups and advisory committees”, says Campbell.  “Finding solutions is not done in a silo.  Rather it’s done in a constructive environment.”

Campbell says Aecon also supports initiatives that encourage women and aboriginal groups to seek employment in the trades, as well as Helmets to Hardhats which focuses on career opportunities within the trades for anyone who has served with the Canadian Armed Forces.  These are programs also supported by the IBB.

For those reasons, Maloney is not overly concerned about the future of available boilermakers.

“We have one of the highest apprenticeship completion rates in the industry. We’ve never had problems attracting apprentices.   We tell people applying for a job – you’re not coming for a job, but rather a career.  Through a workplace initiative, we even teach our members how to manage their money.”

Maloney adds the IBB has a program that monitors intake.  It does a detailed analysis of the work that is pending and with a formula, is able to satisfy all projections including how many workers will be retiring and how many apprentices need to be hired.

Asked to look into his crystal ball to see where the IBB will be in the next five to 10 years, Maloney says “power plants are not going to disappear anytime soon”.

While solar power and wind turbines may play an integral part in meeting Ontario’s future energy demands, Maloney says there will always be a need for power plants, adding there are other ways to generate electricity in the province.

“We like to talk about carbon-captured technology.  Wind and solar power cannot provide all of the required electricity in this province, particularly where the residential and manufacturing sectors are concerned”.

While the future seems bright for the IBB, there are concerns with some federal legislation.  Maloney says the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) contains language that effectively allows a foreign company to come into Canada, successfully bid a project and bring its own workforce.

The other legislation that concerns Maloney is the looming legalization of marijuana.

“It’s a safety issue.  There has to be a better measure of impairment versus lifestyle.  It will cause grief and expense to contractors and we need to protect our contractors.”

Tags  Headline News
Reporter  V56N4
Published on the Web: January 2, 2018

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