EDMONTON, Canada — With a daughter to feed, no job and $200 in the bank, Detroit pipe fitter Scott Zarembski boarded a plane on a one-way ticket to this industrial capital city.
He’d heard there was work in western Canada. Turns out he’d heard right. Within days he was wearing a hard hat at a Shell oil refinery 15 miles away in Fort Saskatchewan. Within six months he had earned almost $50,000. That was 2009. And he’s still there.
“If you want to work, you can work,” said Zarembski, 45. “And it’s just getting started.”
U.S. workers, Canada wants you.
Here in the western province of Alberta, energy companies are racing to tap the region’s vast deposits of oil sands. Canada is looking to double production by the end of the decade. To do so it will have to lure more workers — tens of thousands of them — to this cold and sparsely populated place. The weak U.S. recovery is giving them a big assist.
Canadian employers are swarming U.S. job fairs, advertising on radio and YouTube and using headhunters to lure out-of-work Americans north.
The Great White North might seem a tough sell with winter coming on. But the Canadians have honed their sales pitch: free universal healthcare, good pay, quality schools, retention bonuses and steady work.
The U.S. isn’t the only place Canada is looking for labor. In Alberta, which is expecting a shortage of 114,000 skilled workers by 2021, provincial officials have been courting English-speaking tradespeople from Ireland, Scotland and other European nations. Immigrants from the Philippines, India and Africa have found work in services. But some employers prefer Americans because they adapt quickly, come from a similar culture and can visit their homes more easily.
Since 2010, about 35,000 U.S. workers a year have been issued work permits, according to Canadian immigration statistics. That’s up 13 percent from earlier in the decade. And that figure is expected to grow as provinces continue to loosen requirements for temporary foreign workers.