By Andrew Pariser/RESCON
Labour supply is one of the top issues impacting the residential and broader construction industry in 2021. The message captured in the media right now is, “We need more skilled tradespeople.” The message I want to share is, “We need more of the in-demand
Essentially the messages are the same, but the second relies on LMI data and lines it up with our specific labour needs for building houses, condos and homes. Not all skilled trades are experiencing identical shortages, hence we need to target our efforts on the areas with the highest needs.
The residential sector is the largest of Ontario’s seven construction sectors, and tremendous demand for houses (over the last 30 years) has created specialization within the carpentry and construction craft worker trades. This means that workers and employers in the GTA have specialized and developed expertise in specific trade areas, similar to how a doctor or healthcare professional would specialize in one part of the medical field.
As a result, we need specialized workers or individuals interested in specialized careers to meet the skilled trades labour demand we have.
How did we get here?
Our current labour shortage is the result of many factors. However, there are two reasons that stand out.
First, Ontario was demographically blessed, meaning over the last 20 to 30 years, we had lots of skilled trade workers in their prime working years (25 to 55). This golden age meant employers, unions and the government under-invested in training from 1990 to 2010. Further, these workers are now starting to retire, and now virtually all LMI reports cite that we will need approximately 100,000 new skilled trades workers over the next decade. It is important to note that the government in the last four years has dramatically enhanced skilled trades funding (especially in Ontario), and filling the skills gap is now a top priority for almost all ministries across the Ontario government. These investments are both noticed and greatly appreciated.
Second, we had lots of people interested in the trades both domestically and internationally. Specifically, high schools had shop classes, and new immigrants either had or were willing to learn the specialized skill sets we require in residential construction, including but not limited to low-rise forming, house framing, high-rise forming and other finishing careers.
So what can we do now?
Moving forward, we can address the skills shortage through two streams: targeted immigration and improved domestic supply. For immigration, we need to remove barriers and red tape and get back to targeting the specific skill sets and skilled trades careers that are in demand. Ontario needs the same rights as Quebec to select the immigrants needed to fill in the demand for specialized careers.
With respect to domestic supply, we need to: recognize how the residential construction industry operates and the specialized skill sets required; create and expand the specialized skill set training programs; and expand employer incentives related to specialized skill sets.
In addition, we need to remove barriers and stigmas impacting the skilled trades, and invest in a workplace culture that will appeal to today’s youth and new immigrants. Specifically, we need to focus on recruiting skilled individuals into the sector and then retaining them. Three steps to achieve this are:
- Onboarding and Mentorship: Training providers, employers, unions, and the government are investing heavily in trades promotions which is excellent. What is even better is investing in new workers and initial experiences to ensure those interested in the trades stay in the trades.
- DEI Programs including Anti-Racism and Women in the Trades Initiatives: Traditional recruitment methods via family and friends will no longer suffice to sustain our workforce. Key opportunities exist to reach out to traditionally underrepresented groups – women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour). Individuals need to be encouraged to enter the industry, and we must ensure that construction is a welcoming and safe place for them. Construction can no longer function as a male-dominated industry. We launched the #BIPOCinConstruction campaign to showcase BIPOC workers in our industry who love working in construction in an effort to attract more diverse people to the trades. For more RESCON initiatives focused on DEI, see our recent blog here.
- Improve Pathways and Information: The Ontario government and MLTSD have made this a priority, and skilled trades have received increased attention and focus over the last four years. These efforts are incredible and have already started to create markable improvements.
In conclusion, more work is required, and we have a great foundation to build on.
As a final thought, I would like to provide links to four associations/programs that do incredible work. For more information, reach out to me at email@example.com or peruse one of the links below:
- Building Opportunities for Life Today (BOLT) - An organization that specializes in helping underprivileged youth obtain education, training, and careers in the skilled trades. They recently launched a new video series highlighting construction careers in high-rise residential construction.
- Skills Ontario - The pre-eminent skilled trades promotion association that provides today’s youth (and their influencers) with vital information on all skilled trades. It is important to note the incredible number of virtual events, competitions and webinars Skills Ontario has been able to produce since the pandemic started.
- Step to Construction - Are you a high school student (or parent of one) in TDSB? This program allows students to experience a variety of trades through on-site job-shadowing opportunities.