Looking for work and workers for Fort McMurray spring building boom

1 / 6
Looking for work and workers for Fort McMurray spring building boom

Jeff Fransky moved from Ontario to Fort McMurray three weeks ago attracted by the promise of the spring building boom.

"The rebuild is exciting for me as a contractor," Fransky said. "I do feel for the people here that went through the devastation, but at the same time there is opportunity for me here."

More than 1,000 people, including Fransky, attended the YMM Home Show and Job Fair on Friday in Fort McMurray.

The Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation organized past shows like this to help homeowners rebuild after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

But this weekend's two-day event targeted people looking for work and builders looking for workers.

Information officer Leigh Ann Smith said over 40 companies registered for the job fair in the hope of hiring new employees or boosting their list of potential employees when positions come available.

"We thought this is important with construction season and local employers looking for more employees to bring the two ends together," Smith said.

9,000 rebuild jobs

A May wildfire levelled entire communities in Fort McMurray. The fire is considered one of Canada's costliest insured disasters, at over $3.6 billion.

The scale of the destruction means builders and labourers would need to rebuild more than 2,400 homes.

Over 470 building permits have been issued and the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation expects the bulk of construction this year will begin in April when the ground begins to thaw.

A Conference Board of Canada report estimates the rebuild will inject $5.3-billion into the Canadian economy. At its peak, the increased economic activity that will be generated will peak with the creation of almost 9,000 jobs in 2017. 

Not enough workers

The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce said local businesses are eager to participate in the rebuild.

However executive director Alexis Foster is hearing from members they're having a hard time finding workers.

"We are hopeful this event will bring in some more labourers and contractors for these builders," Foster said.

On the job fair floor, the Fort McMurray Filter Shop is one of the business looking for workers in the spring. The shop services filters and HVACs on oilsands sites and in homes.

Human resources manager Lana Unick said her company is looking to hire six workers.

"We lost some people that didn't come back after the wildfire," Unick said. "There's less people that came back and so we had that void to fill."

Not everyone hiring

Not every business is hiring. Several at the weekend show said they were focused on attracting customers and not hiring. Custom home builder Terry LeBlanc said his company Terriza Homes isn't ready to accept resumes yet.

Eventually he will need to hire contractors but maybe not until June. LeBlanc said building permit delays and late insurance settlements means start dates are being pushed back.

"I know there's a couple of people that I have been dealing with who have been through two or three adjusters," LeBlanc said. "The insurance process started up really slow."

But not everyone at the homeshow hoped to find a job in the construction sector. Erasmus Katjikuru said he's looking for a more stable job in the oilsands.

"If I get an opportunity to go to the rebuild I might go there," Katjikuru said. "But rebuild is going to be temporary."

Katjikuru hopes Fort McMurray's economy will begin to pick up and he would get a permanent well-paying job. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook, Twitter or contact him via email.