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Blue Branch proposes ‘supercommuting’ as solution to combat labour shortage

Angela Gismondi
Blue Branch proposes ‘supercommuting’ as solution to combat labour shortage

A Hamilton, Ont.-based company is looking to help tackle the labour crisis by connecting skilled workers with employers using “supercommuting,” a model that encourages workers to travel for work for stints of time while not forcing them to uproot their lives.

“The end goal for us is to increase labour mobility across Canada,” said Blue Branch CEO Todd Clyde.

“The number one issue right now is labour supply. We have to make coming to Ontario an amazing experience for people. We have some of the highest wages in the country and we have tremendous opportunity because of the amount of retirements happening, so individuals are going to be able to come in, get great jobs and be able to move up the ladder quicker.

“We have to rely on a non-regional labour force, because right now we are dealing with historical lows.”

Clyde started Blue Branch in January 2017 after working in Stratford, a rural town in southwestern Ontario which had a growing construction and manufacturing sector but not enough workers to fill those jobs. Typically, workers would come in from the surrounding area but they were growing as well.

Bringing workers from other provinces is not a new concept. The fly-in, fly-out employment method has been used all over Canada to fill jobs in remote areas.

“This isn’t new, it’s just taking some of the best practices we had from other markets and bringing this into new zones and especially rural areas of Ontario,” said Clyde. “I launched it as a social enterprise because I was concerned all these individuals that worked for me and with me (from Alberta and Nova Scotia) from management to general labour and the skilled trades were all of a sudden out of work and they couldn’t find employment in the areas they were working in for years and apprenticing in.”

It can be difficult to convince companies to get on board because it does come with additional costs associated with flights and housing for these individuals.

“When they (employers) come to us they’ve already explored all the local options. They’ve tried their internal recruitment efforts, they’re trying to bring temporary foreign workers in from the program which is very complicated,” said Clyde. “We are a last resort.”

They use the nudge approach and offer workers a plane ticket, a place to stay and an employer that wants them.

“If I call someone in Stephenville, Newfoundland and say, ‘Hey, come to Stratford for work’ they say, ‘I can’t just pick up my life and move to Stratford I don’t even know where it is,’” explained Clyde. “We say, ‘why don’t you come in for six weeks. We’ll get a plane ticket in, we’ll put you up somewhere to stay and we’ll find you the employer to go to and every six weeks you can go home for a week to reset and then repeat that cycle.’

“They are coming from areas where the unemployment is low or they are underemployed so here is a new opportunity without having to make those hard decisions out of the gate.”

Blue Branch handles the logistics including flights, accommodations, recruiting individuals and putting the package together.

“Some of our biggest success in the last few years has been new Canadians moving from the GTA into rural markets.

“The idea was the individuals can find employment, the employers can find a new employee and the community would get a new individual or family. Our focus was how can we convince individuals to relocate permanently and facilitate that,” said Clyde.

Blue Branch is also conducting research with the University of Toronto and the University of Windsor on why labour mobility isn’t comparable to some of the other G7 countries and the U.S.

In Canada, one per cent of the population is mobile for labour. That’s down two per cent from 50 years ago, explained Clyde.

“There was no research really detailing why and although that number sounds small, it represented just short of 400,000 people that were less mobile today than before,” Clyde noted.

“We are doing research to find out if there is any correlation between what type of individuals would be more hardy for that type of travel and also if there are certain psychometric traits in individuals that would predict that they would be more open to not just doing the super-commute but also potentially relocating into these communities.”

For more on this story listen to The Construction Record podcast here.

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela

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