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Transportation sector braces for boom 
Published: May 14, 2008
Source: Derek Sankey, The Calgary Herald
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Universities and colleges are broadening their training programs for the transportation and logistics industry as the sector faces increasing demand for workers with more versatile skills in all areas, particularly middle- and upper-management jobs.

About 86,000 people will be needed annually to fill the void left by retiring workers and surging demand in areas such as the railway industry and others, according to organizations that track the sector such as the Van Horne Institute at the University of Calgary.

After trying to launch a transportation and logistics program a few years ago at the U of C that focused on social sciences, the president of the Van Horne Institute is now working with the Haskayne School of Business at the university to develop a bachelor of commerce degree with a transportation specialization.

"Social sciences are still a very important aspect to it, such as transportation geography and economics, but now we're more focused on creating a bigger emphasis on making it part of a business degree," says Peter Wallis, president of the Van Horne Institute.

The general public has a pretty narrow view of what types of skills are needed in the transportation and logistics field, typically thinking of warehouse workers or truck drivers without recognizing the vast spectrum of other occupations within the field, he says.

"We're now in the process of designing it and working with industry so people have a broader understanding of supply chain and operations management," says Mr. Wallis.

Since Alberta's economy remains strong and is geographically situated as an inland transportation hub, Mr. Wallis believes it's a perfect location to develop these types of programs.

Paul Wajda knows how desperately needed people are with both traditional skills, such as heavy-duty mechanics and railway conductors, and more complex skills, typically found in middle- to upper-management business and operations roles.

As director of talent acquisition and development for Canadian Pacific, he's hiring about 1,100 people a year for the next three years both on the union side and management side.

"You could pretty much come into a company like CP and get any kind of career you want because we're so diverse, from finance to marketing to operations to HR to public affairs and communication," says Mr. Wajda.

"A lot of people can leave in the next four to five years and they're the senior people. We have to transfer that knowledge from those individuals to the younger generation," he says.

The average age of workers in the rail industry is also older than the national average for the transportation and logistics sector: 45 versus 39 years old. It means his company's workforce strategy is ahead of the curve and needs to address the urgent need for people in the next few years after several years of downsizing in the past.

"We're running record tonnage, which means we need to hire more people," says Mr. Wajda.

Mount Royal College's Valerie Kinnear, program chairwoman of the bachelor of applied international business and supply chain management program, launched in 2004, says the need for versatile graduates has never been more apparent.

"The combination of a business background with more specific skills on operating transportation and logistics businesses is really what it's about," she says, adding all of the program graduates found immediate employment in a wide range of industries.

"There's higher demand for workers than we've had students to take on those positions," says Ms. Kinnear.

The busy pace of the oil and gas sector has only exacerbated the need for students with a broad skill set in transportation and logistics with the business and operations management skills to make them versatile additions to any company, operating in areas such as the oilsands.

"A large chunk of running any business is making sure you've got what you need, where you need it and when you need it," she says. "There's such a huge need to get things into place to run your operations for these huge (oilsands) projects."

Companies in more traditional sectors, such as trucking and rail, are also clearly experiencing a need for workers due to the demographic reality facing them, so Mr. Wajda believes working closely with training institutions to identify specific areas of hottest demand in the future will be paramount to any effective workforce strategy.

CP works with SAIT Polytechnic, NAIT, BCIT and other post-secondary institutions across Canada to help develop the next generation of employees for its wide geographic base.

"Alberta is a hot market right now, B.C. is one and Saskatchewan will probably be the next one, but we have strategies to get people from the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario. We're looking at foreign workers -- anything to help us meet our growth strategy," says Mr. Wajda.


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