The Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association and the Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council are among the 14 sector council members of the Association of Industry Sector Councils (AISC) which are embarking on labour market data collection projects this year.

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education has funded a project to the AISC for collecting  better labour market information and that project “as we worked through it, it made sense for some of that funding to flow through to some of the individual sector councils because they’re the most in tune with their members so the project just kicked off this month (July),” said Jan Fullerton, executive director of the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association.

“Every sector council that is part of AISC has been funded to have a labour market analyst position. People have been hired and are in place now, working with project leads to shape the project.”

Fullerton said the NSBA is still establishing the key metrics of the data it wants to collect and how to collect those. 

“Some of the key pieces of information we want to better understand is the labour gap, and if we can do projections as well that would be ideal,” said Fullerton. “Like better age profiles in the industry so we can understand what that means for trying to predict retirement numbers and vacancies and stuff but ultimately it gives us better information so when as an industry association we are thinking what are our training priorities, what specific occupations are the most in demand and hardest to find, then we can try and position training for that and try and do some bridging.”

A workforce and training survey conducted by the NSBA in 2020 found the biggest workforce challenge shared by the majority of respondents was not being able to find people with the needed skills, followed by employee reliability and productivity.

“Some government support programs are believed to be negatively impacting companies’ ability to find and keep workers,” reads the survey summary. “Overall, the data about workforce challenges reflect what we’ve been hearing from our industry in recent years: there are issues with not only the quantity of workers, but the quality.”

The two biggest areas of need identified in the survey were composite fabricators and fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP) laminators and welders. Diesel/marine mechanics were also high on the list.

“This indicates a significant labour market challenge for our industry,” says the summary survey.

“The short answer is that we hear from virtually all of our sector employers that finding labour is one of their biggest business challenges,” said Fullerton. “While there are specific skilled occupations in demand, many companies also struggle to find semi-skilled and unskilled workers who show up reliably and have a good work ethic when on site.”

Fullerton said she thinks the labour market data collection project is “going to be a great project. I can’t wait to see some of the data that comes out of it. It’s just going to be a little while yet before we actually start seeing numbers because there’s a lot of planning that has to happen first.”

Fullerton said the key thing is the data will assist industry mostly indirectly “in that it helps organizations like ours to better understand the labour gap so it gives us real concrete numbers so for example, we’re doing an eight week introduction composite fabrication course this fall and in the winter, 10 people per course, so we’re hoping from that we get some more composite workers for the industry.”

Fullerton said the NSBA will also be ramping up some other training initiatives, presentations to students and workshops this fall.

“We hired a new certification and training coordinator last spring. He’s been doing a good job getting out there but it’s hard during COVID-19. We can’t so the same type of training we normally do so we’re starting to get back into that now.”