Nunavut government needs to invest in its local construction workforce, MLAs say

Legislature debates $25-million budget needed to isolate southern construction workers in 2020

The Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre is one of more than 50 projects that has been under construction in Nunavut over the summer. Some Nunavut MLAs argue the cost of flying in a southern construction workforce is inflating the cost of the territory’s capital projects. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Nunatsiaq News

Arviat North–Whale Cove MLA John Main says the Government of Nunavut should take some of the money it spends on isolating and flying in southern construction workers and instead use those funds to recruit more Nunavummiut into the industry.

As part of the debate about the territory’s latest supplementary appropriation act last week, MLAs were asked to approve a $25-million budget to cover the costs of isolation hubs for construction workers until the end of the year.

But Main and Iqaluit–Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone both argued that the cost of the southern construction workforce is inflating the cost of Nunavut’s capital projects.

It costs about $14,400 for the government to isolate a single southern-based worker, multiplied by the roughly 1,200 construction workers who have flown into the territory to work on building projects this summer. That means, to date, the government has spent $17.3 million on isolating southern-based workers.

The request for $25 million is a significant ask, Main told the legislative assembly during committee of the whole on Sept. 23.

“This is something that’s very special that’s being put in place up to December for the southern labour hires, $25 million for the southern labour,” Main said. “What special is going to be done for the Nunavut-based workforce?”

Main suggested that, at the cost of $14,000 per worker, the GN could instead spend $10,000 to recruit a single Nunavut-based worker.

“That’s a potential cost savings,” he said.

Finance Minister George Hickes said the government encourages local employment on every project that goes out.

There have been an estimated 53 construction projects ongoing across the territory over the summer, and the government says many of those contracts have exceeded the minimum requirements under the government’s Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti policy, which sets quotas for Inuit hires on any given project.

Hickes said that before the end of October, the government would be able to provide an overview of the different trades the southern workers who have been through isolation work in, in order to get a better sense of where Nunavut-based tradespeople could be recruited.

But regardless of the GN’s efforts, Hickes said in most cases, there is a greater urgency for projects to be completed.

“The cost of not building or the cost of holding up construction far exceeds even what we’re spending on these hubs,” Hickes said.

“There are numerous things that COVID has taught us, but one of the things that’s highlighted is what members are bringing up this week is it has really reinforced the lack of local labour and whether that’s an availability issue or if it’s a training issue.”

Community and Government Services Minister Lorne Kusugak said his department is working with Nunavut Arctic College’s trades programs to move more Nunavummiut into its programs and out into the territory’s workforce.

“We’re seeing a drastic increase in employable tradespeople,” Kusugak said. “I think that as we progress through this, we will see a decrease in tradespeople from the south.

“It can’t happen overnight, as we all know, but the goal is that at some point we will have very employable Inuit and majority-owned Inuit contractors and construction companies.”

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(20) Comments:

  1. Posted by Unpopular Opinion on

    But Main and Iqaluit–Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone both argued that the cost of the southern construction workforce is inflating the cost of Nunavut’s capital projects.

    I would argue that hiring local not only does the same, it does so with less assurance in actual capacity.

  2. Posted by Change on

    This will all change now that CERB has ended and people will actually have to work to get money… The good thing is people will get jobs to pay when they get taxed on what most didn’t deserve anyway.

  3. Posted by Bob the builder on

    Finally this is being discussed! Construction companies are making a killing in Nunavut on social housing, schools and so on, with so much money they are making theyhave their own planes to fly their crew in and out of the communities, 95% of their workforce from the south and the money leaving Nunavut with them.

    GN, NCC needs to make investments in Nunavut instead of continuing in the status quo, build the training centres in the three regions, build capacity of local construction workers, electricians, plumbers.

    We need these centres, the one in Rankin is not enough. Maybe Housing Corp should also have a arm in construction, building social housing, it’s crazy how much the GN spends on a small social house , a multiplex, we really are spending too much money on tenders and contracts. Construction companies with their token heads making millions each year, things need to change.

    • Posted by Tod on

      I think there is a level of corruption with these token Inuit businesses and the GN lets it happen with its NNI policies.
      It really is not beneficial for Nunavut and contributes to the shortage of social housing in Nunavut.
      When a 125,000 house cost over 600,000 to build something is not right, I agree these few construction companies are making a killing, thanks to the GN.

  4. Posted by Don on

    The GN encourages local hire, that’s all nice and dandy but it’s just hot air coming out of your mouth, how are Nunavumiut supposed to accomplish this with the training needed? Where is the commitment from the GN to build capacity in this field?
    I am so tired of this governments inactions, just smoke and mirrors, nothing but hot air when they speak.

    • Posted by Labourers Needed on

      You don’t need training to push a wheelbarrow or hand 2 X 4’s to a carpenter, yet construction companies cannot fill their contractual quotas of local workers. All the people walking around all day, hanging out by the Northern could all have jobs tomorrow but don’t want them.

      • Posted by Don on

        You need training to become a carpenter, electrician or plumber, Inuit can become all of these if the opportunity was available closer to home.
        Nunavut would benefit greatly instead of the money flowing out of the territory.

        • Posted by David on

          I teach High School Construction.

          For trades, it’s the other way round. First you need to get hired, and then a journeyman agrees to train you. Apprentices spend little time in school a year compared to the on the job training they get. The vast majority of training is on the job.

          There is absolutely nothing stopping a person from getting hired on as labour. The training actually starts on the job as a labourer. I am about to make a sweeping generalization that I may get flamed for….. but my experience with Inuit has shown me they have very strong natural aptitude for building and construction.

        • Posted by Labourers Needed on

          But the question is who will be trained?

          People who don’t want a job in the first place, OR the people who don’t want to do the work required to learn the ropes on the construction site?

          They don’t hand out Red Seals like cracker jack prizes just because you want a non-entry-level job.

          • Posted by David on

            I’m not arguing with you. I’m just pointing out that you don’t need any training to break into any trade in Nunavut.

            Arctic College offers “pre apprentice” programs, that I have always seen called “pre employment” elsewhere. I tell my students they are a waste of time and money. They are only really useful to people in really tight job markets that are having a hard time landing that first job. It’s easy to get that job in Nunavut, you’ll learn the same skills while getting paid. In Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, you may need pre employment courses to land a job. Certainly not Nunavut.
            Really……. you learn the trades by doing!

  5. Posted by qalunaangua on

    2020 year was to promote 20 years in servicen year for retirements to thrive younger generation inuit… shame in ncc nig

  6. Posted by Bigger Questions on

    Why was it necessary to pay for their isolation in the first place? Why $14000 per worker? Why not $1000? What is the logic? Did they not have contracts to finish things by certain dates?
    Turning this into a train local people issue departs from the issue of why the money is being paid in the first place. All Nunavummuit know that if they want to work they’ll be given a job and training, but we all know that not enough people want to work these jobs. Why would you when you can earn $80000 a year to answer phones for the GN with staff housing?

  7. Posted by Homunculous Hires on

    This is all lip service. The local workforce Nunavut requires, simply does not exist. Everyone who wants to work, is working. Nunavut cannot come close to providing the numbers of basic labourers needed on construction sites, let alone the number of individuals having basic qualifications to enroll in and graduate from trades programs. Ask any construction firm and they will tell you, they cannot even get enough unskilled workers to meet their quotas. When they DO get them, the workers quickly tire of menial tasks and bounce from company to company. I personally have seen it dozens of times. Where do people like Main fantasize that these workers will magically appear from? I’m guessing from the same enchanted worker fountain that the public believes will somehow provide hundreds of bilingual teachers, nurses, doctors, etc.

    • Posted by Exactly on

      Preach brother! You have hit the nail on the head.

  8. Posted by delbert on

    I agree with Mr. Main on many issues but not this one. Cost of contracts would go up without Southern hires. The reasons I could give are many. Contractors from the south know the local work force has many issues, which impacts the cost of construction projects.

  9. Posted by Hey Bob on

    The NHC (Previously NWTHC) has had a trades division for over 40 years. That division is intended to maintain the Housing units. The various LHO’s employ hundreds of trades staff, managers, foremen and clerks. However, to the maintenance quality, with few exceptions the maintenance is extremely poor, repairs are haphazard. A pail under a sink does not fix a leaking drain. There are hundreds and hundreds of these issues which lead to rot and mold, serious safety concerns and more expense. Don’t forget the NHT (Housing Trust) intended to build houses, train trade staff. All Gov Department of NU participated in the program. One of the biggest failures the GN ever had. So sure get rid of all southern workers, use 100% northern. NCC was set up to build units, maintain and manage for a 20 year guaranteed rental program. Around 20 million per year. Yup that worked well. Take a look at the staff make-up. Let me know how that works out for you. Been there done that and even bought the tee shirt. History can teach a lot, study some of it.

    • Posted by Bob the builder on

      I’m so tired of the poorly run departments and all the failures that come with it. It just boggles my mind how executives in these departments can continue to hold their jobs when they do so little or plain and simple be so incompetent.
      How can this continue to go on!? This need to be dis more and brought to light and reviewed fully, why have they failed terribly? How can it be fixed? How can we move ahead?

  10. Posted by Bill Hughes on

    Some are against training and some are for training
    Those for training, do not give up.
    Southern employees hiring apprentices check school marks in science, math, and english, they also determine whether the person wants to be a trades person, and can they finish the program.
    I do not know who governs Nunavut, is it NTI, QIA or the GN?
    Remember Rome was not built in a day, neither was Nunavut everything takes time!
    Do not give up!!

    • Posted by Observation Post on

      The voices of dissent here seem to be pointing out some truths that tend to get ignored in all the rhetoric. I think they are worth listening too, even if you don’t agree. At the same time I don’t see any hostility to training or to Inuit climbing the skills ladder.

  11. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Everyone seems to have a short memory. This isn’t the first time that Nunavut has tried to train skilled workers. Back in the early 2000s there was a big push to get red seal apprentices onto job sites and into local companies. The companies were all for it but it fell on its face because not enough young people were interested in entering the trades and those that did try it soon quit because they found the work too hard and the hours too long. Goes to prove that old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

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