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Explore Economics East conference hears more skilled tradespeople needed in P.E.I.

Mary Grant, left, Dianne Griffin and Brent Byrnes participated in a panel discussion about labour issues facing Island businesses on Tuesday.
Mary Grant, left, Dianne Griffin and Brent Byrnes participated in a panel discussion about labour issues facing Island businesses on Tuesday. - Terrence McEachern

VERNON RIVER, P.E.I. - It’s a familiar set of challenges that human resources professionals on P.E.I. face each day – how to find skilled labour and how to retain the employees you have already.

“We can’t stay here if we don’t get skilled tradespeople. That is our biggest challenge today,” said Dianne Griffin, human resources manager with 3 Points Aviation in Charlottetown, at the third annual Explore Economics East conference at St. Joachim’s Parish Hall in Vernon River earlier this week.

Griffin was one of three human resources professionals to participate in a panel discussion at the conference. The other panelists were Brent Byrnes, vice-president of sales and marketing with UpStreet Craft Brewing, and Mary Grant, co-owner of Cardigan Feed Services Ltd.

Griffin explained the company recently moved its repair and overhaul operations to Calgary. The move affected 26 employees, of which 80 per cent have been placed in new jobs.

But the move also created a need for CNC (computer numerical control) machinists.

“We are now hiring eight to 12 people immediately, and then more to come as we get more machines and fill our building back up,” she said.

So far, the company has been competing with others on P.E.I. for CNC machinists trained in Moncton. The Island needs its own training program at a school like Holland College, Griffin said.

As a result, 3 Points Aviation has looked for CNC machinists overseas, but was unable to bring them over due to government “red tape.” In the meantime, it’s trying to recruit local young people, including teenage girls, through a “try-a-trade” event taking place today.

In its three years, Upstreet Craft Brewing has grown from eight to 81 employees.

“My responsibility with Upstreet is to make sure that we’re always having fun, we always have the right people and we’re always in the community,” said Byrnes.

From a human resources point of view, Byrnes said new employees are required to perform a delivery and a dishwashing shift before their first regular shift, then again before the year is up.

“They need to see how it starts from the beginning,” he said.

Staff are also required to volunteer in the community three hours a month. This is important since about 90 per cent of the staff are originally from Kings County, and Byrnes wants them out in the community getting to know people.

He said the idea is to hire someone you’d want to sit down with and have a beer.

For Griffin, the biggest challenge is finding qualified Class 1 drivers. After two previous accidents, the business’ insurance provider requires that only drivers with three years of experience are hired.

In terms of dealing with employees, she said it’s important to remember that mistakes happen, to think things through before speaking with an employee if an issue has occurred and to respect everyone and “have a happy culture.”

Besides the panel discussion, P.E.I. business owners discussed working on the Island and the challenges they face. The owners included Tony MacDonald (Tony’s Tuna Fishing), Ashley Koke (Timber Koke’s Sawmill), Dan Dupont (Working Forest P.E.I.), J.J. Chaisson (Rolo Bay Fiddling Festival and a fisherman) and Bethany McCarthy (a lobster fisherman).

The keynote address was delivered by Mark MacDonald, chairman and CEO of Northumberland Ferries Ltd. The conference was hosted by the Eastern P.E.I. Chamber of Commerce.

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