By July 2017, and after the opening of the Fairview Container Terminal’s Phase 2 North expansion project, owner-operator DP World will have 750 people working inside its fences.
That figure is a 250-worker boost from how many people currently operate at Fairview and will have a massive impact on the workforce on the North Coast – not just in DP World’s new scope, but in the rest of the business community’s labour pool. It will represent a full 10 per cent of Prince Rupert’s labour force.
On Oct. 19, DP World’s Jim Rushton, manager for labour, corporate and government affairs, provided an update to the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce.
Rushton shared his excitement over the completion of the expansion, which will add a second berth for ships, three additional cranes to Fairview and the ability to ship 1.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually. That number is up from the current 850,000 TEU capacity.
“2017 will be a significant turning point for us. It starts off with the completion of the first full year of operation under new ownership with DP World,” Rushton said.
“We will begin the transition from being the ‘little terminal that could’ into being that anchor point for a significant trade gateway that is going to change things, not just for DP World and the terminal, but for the community and for the region across the north.”
The economic and offsetting impacts to the workforce in Prince Rupert and the surrounding areas will be significant and will need to be addressed.
Rushton and DP World approached Asia Pacific Gateway Skills Table, a federally funded non-profit council, to launch the Prince Rupert-Port Edward Labour Supply Study approximately 18 months ago.
The conclusions from the research, interviews and consulting painted a clear picture of the North Coast labour pool as it stands now and in the next 15 years, should there be no announcement of any major project in other industries, such as LNG.
What the study found was that Prince Rupert’s population is not expected to grow and will remain static at around 13,000 to 14,000 people. However, the number of seniors (65-and-over) living in town will grow, while the number of young people will not. This results in the labour force shrinking by 7.5 per cent.
“More people continue to leave our area every year than people move in and the birth rate is not enough to bump [our population] higher,” said Rushton.
“But this is a trend found across northern B.C. and across rural and remote communities across Canada. The movement to urban centres is the most dominant population trend in the world.”
With 10 per cent of the North Coast’s workers working with DP World’s management and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) by next year, major impacts to the community will start to be felt.
“People are attracted to us because of the higher pay and training opportunities that go on, so people have left to come work for us at the waterfront,” Rushton said. “Other [businesses] are already experiencing some difficulty replacing the workers that we are attracting, so we expect that to continue.”
DP World has some work ahead of them that doesn’t involve loading containers onto ships based on the results of the study.
“Fairview will attract the workers that we need. The study also concluded that other segments of the economy will feel pressure, and as we expand further and more businesses develop in support of our businesses, there could be actual shortages.”
The company is starting to work with other larger corporations in the area to identify a new base of workers from which the community can draw from to grow the economy.
The First Nations community — 43 per cent of the population — and the female population were identified as sources for that growing base.
“There is room to grow participation in the labour force amongst Aboriginal people. There is also room to grow participation in the labour force amongst women – particularly in certain sectors that require help, all of which will require a lot of hard work and a lot of attention,” Rushton said.
The manager also shed light on some of DP World’s broader plans, which include the goal of handling four million containers per year in B.C. by 2022, 60 per cent of that in Prince Rupert.
In January, the company will be operating four terminals in Canada. One each in Saint John, Nanaimo, Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
“What that [60 per cent] means to me, is that it will make Prince Rupert the flagship of this major Canadian corporation,” he said.
Rushton noted the need for management to diversify including female and Aboriginal employees, while on the waterfront, both are already well-represented.
“If we don’t diversify, we won’t find the troops. The troops are in the availability of women and First Nations, so if we want to staff up, we’re going to have to get with the program,” he explained.
Rushton said that the company is happy to support things like hospital upgrades, Redesign Rupert and the McKay Park initiative because it makes good business sense for its employees to be happy and thrive in their community, and to want to stay.
“We will have challenges and as we continue from a local economy to one based on world trade and transportation, we’re going to have to get focused on the idea that we’re moving from less seasonal employment to more full-time employment. We need to re-engage the labour force in a different way than we have in the past.”
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