08/16/2013 04:51 EDT | Updated 10/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Employment minister says skilled trades program a step to filling chronic labour shortage

CALGARY - Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says a chronic shortage of skilled trades workers, especially in Alberta's oilsands, can only be solved by a major influx of carpenters, electricians and welders from outside of Canada.

Kenney was at an announcement in Calgary Friday, introducing one of the first new workers who has received escalated permanent resident status under the new Federal Skilled Trades Program.

The program is aimed at people who want to become permanent residents based on being qualified in a skilled trade. To apply they must have work experience in a specific trade and meet several other requirements.

Kenney said one of the challenges facing Canada is that young people are not going into the trades and its creating an "acute shortage" of electricians, welders and boilermakers.

"Because Canada has always been a country of immigration we believe we can use our immigration programs much better to attract tradesmen who have practical skills and can literally help us build our country," he said.

"We see some of the most acute labour shortages in the construction trades in the Athabasca oilsands region because we're talking about multibillion dollar mega construction projects there. We simply do not have enough qualified trades people in Canada to fill those labour needs."

The minister said the scarcity of quality workers stretches across the country from the oilsands to huge commodity projects throughout northern Canada and iron ore developments in Labrador.

"According to different industry councils, we're looking at shortages of hundreds of thousands of construction trades people in the next decade," he said.

"We need to make sure we have an immigration system that instead of bringing medical doctors here to drive cabs brings electricians to work as electricians."

Paul Lyttle, an electrician from Northern Ireland, was in Canada on a working holiday program when he applied through skilled trades program.

"Our old immigration system was dysfunctional. It took us sometimes up to 10 years to process an application for someone to immigrate to Canada," said Kenney, the minister of Employment and Social Development.

"Paul is a living example of how our new system is actually working because we managed to process his application and admit him as a permanent resident in about three months time."