Darlington nuclear refurbishment drives Ontario construction worker demand

The plan to refurbish four reactors at the Darlington nuclear generating station east of Toronto is one project that will increase the demand for labour, according to exhibitors at the recent Future Building job fair.

“The nuclear refurbishment at Darlington is going to require thousands of construction workers,” said Sean Strickland, chief executive officer of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS), which hosted Future Building at the Better Living Centre on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

“Bruce Power is talking about doing a couple of their units as well. That’s going to require probably more than 1,500 construction workers.”

The definition phase of the Darlington Retube and Feeder Replacement Project is expected to generate $600 million for a joint venture between SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and Aecon Group Inc., according to an Aecon announcement in February. The definition phase is expected to last from this year until 2016, when Aecon will build a full-scale mockup while SNC-Lavalin will develop specialized tooling. The execution phase is expected to take place from 2016 until 2023.

Aecon was one company with a booth at Future Building, offering information on careers to students in Grades 7 through 12.

“The timeline is going to be about 14 to 16 years,” Amanda Nagy, human resources administrator at Aecon Industrial, said at Future Building.

“We really see a deficit there.”

Several of the unions included hands-on demonstrations at their booths, allowing students to weld, lay brick and use heavy equipment simulators.

“Everybody’s waiting for Darlington (refurbishment) to kick in,” said Wayne MacDonald, an instructor with Ironworkers Local 721.

“The nuclear plant out there — we will need people to man that.”

Boilermakers “see dollar signs” with projects such as the Darlington refurbishment, said Blair Allin, health and safety and upgrading instructor at Boilermakers Local 128.

A planned nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ont. is another major project that will require skilled trades. In November, 2010, Vale SA said it planned to spend about $3.4 billion to upgrade its mining and processing facilities, which it inherited when it acquired Inco in 2006. Up to $2 billion of that money is expected to be spent on the atmospheric emissions project.

“Northern Ontario is going to have a very robust construction market and long-term job market for the mining industry, hopefully for generations to come,” Strickland said.

“There are big projects coming up at Vale, formerly Inco and Xstrata, formerly Falconbridge. Quadra FNX has a big capital project that they’re looking at and those are existing mines. Over and above that, there’s the opening up of the Ring of Fire.”

Strickland said OCS, which includes representatives from government, unions and general contractors, was expecting about 8,000 students to attend Future Building over three days.

Ironworkers Local 721 did a demonstration of mechanical advantage, with a block and tackle system, and let students walk over an I-beam.

“This has been one of the most popular stations in the whole place,” MacDonald said.

“We have had lineups of 50, 60, 100 kids waiting to walk the beam.”

The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) was at Future Building to promote professional careers, said Terry Doyle, director of human resources for Eastern Construction Company Ltd. Her firm, along with EllisDon Corp., PCL Constructors Inc., Alberici Corp. and Maple Reinders, participated in the OGCA booth.

“We’ve been very successful reaching out to the college and university level to promote our industry and our sector,” she said.

“However, given the skills shortages in the workforce, we really feel we need to start at a much younger age to make them aware of the many rewarding professional careers in construction.”

One plumbing instructor with the United Association (UA) of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry booth stressed the importance of math, physics and chemistry, even for skilled trades.

“We’re expecting advanced level math, chemistry and physics,” said Mike Gordon a trade school instructor with Toronto-based UA local 46.

“Those are the types of courses and the types of skills that we hope you’ll have with you to avoid suffering when you go through the actual in school portion for your apprenticeship.”