10/15/2013 08:31 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

B.C. construction firms seek workers in Ireland

B.C. construction companies are coming under fire after it emerged they are going to Ireland to find 700 plumbers, carpenters, pipefitters, welders and millrights.

Manley McLachlan, president of the B.C. Construction Association, says there are not enough skilled, experienced workers in western Canada and they have to make up for the shortfall.

He also said a burgeoning oil and gas industry, including LNG projects in B.C., are going to put even more pressure on the industry.

"The work is there, the projects are there, but the problem we're going to have is that we have about 38,000 British Columbians that are retiring over the next four to five years," said McLachlan.

According to the association, only one in 32 high school graduates is pursuing a career in the trades, when they need one in five to fill the gap.

Recruitment consultant Ruairi Spillane, who moved to Canada from Ireland five years ago, said he's not surprised by the move.

"We had a very high proportion of our economy working within construction, so Canadian companies are travelling to Ireland to take advantage of this massive skills surplus essentially," said Spillane.

Spillane has since started his own recruitment company to help fellow Irish workers find jobs outside of Ireland.

"It's just a change from the doom and gloom in Ireland. We're five years into a recession and it's been a constant barrage of bad news stories in Ireland."

More investment needed

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, blames B.C.'s Liberal government for failing to invest in skills training.

"I think it's a great big neon sign, saying we've made some terrible mistakes in British Columbia," said Sinclair.

"We're searching the world now to poach tradespeople that are already trained by others, because we never did the job ourselves," said Sinclair.

Sinclair says few employers are offering apprenticeship programs, so trades students cannot get licensed to work.