Industry is facing challenges, so there is work to be done
By Richard Lyall / RESCON
There are plenty of challenges facing the construction industry these days, namely lingering complications from COVID-19, the shortage of building materials and supply chain issues. However, the looming skilled trades shortage could be the biggest hurdle our industry must overcome.
A third of the tradespeople in our industry are nearing retirement and Ontario is projected to face a shortfall of more than 100,000 construction workers over the next decade.
The effects are already being felt. In the second quarter of this year, about 21,000 jobs in construction were unfilled in the province. Many of these jobs are in the residential sector which depends on specialized skill sets, so this is of particular concern to developers and new home builders.
It is therefore of critical importance that we pull out all the stops to get more young people into the trades. Training the next generation of workers is paramount to keep our industry in good health.
In addition to training more youth domestically, we must try to increase immigration and look to underrepresented groups like women and people from Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities and convince them that a career in construction can be a good, well-paying opportunity.
Women presently make up only 12 per cent of construction employment in Ontario and figures from 2020 show that Indigenous people account for only 2.7 per cent of the construction workforce.
By 2025, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development estimates that as many as one in five jobs in the province will be in the skilled trades. Presently, the average age of people entering the trades is 29. We must work to lower this.
To stave off a shortage of trades workers, the province recently announced an additional $90-million investment in the trades sector. Some of the funding will be used to enhance the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, which will deploy 63 additional recruiters to high schools to teach young people about the skilled trades in more than 800 schools across the province.
This will help break the stigma of the trades by improving guidance about the careers to educators and guidance counsellors who have significant influence on a young person’s career decisions.
The government will also be doing an annual advertising campaign promoting the skilled trades, host skilled trades job fairs, provide free pre-apprenticeship training for marginalized youth and simplify the existing apprenticeship system.
RESCON welcomes the funding as it will encourage young people to explore careers in the trades. Recruiters will reach the youth at a critical time in their lives when they are choosing a career path.
We have been making efforts to promote the trades to women and BIPOC youth. In April, we launched a BIPOC youth advisory committee, and in November we launched a #BIPOCinConstruction testimonial campaign to let diverse and racialized youth know that the industry is a viable career option. Their stories explain how they got into the industry and why they like working in construction. You can read more about the campaign here.
We also helped to sponsor a series of videos titled Careers in Construction that are profiling 10 different trades in the residential sector. Two more educational videos were recently released by BOLT.
But there is more to be done.
Immigration is another way to bolster the numbers in the trades. In light of the present situation, the provincial government is asking the federal government to double the number of potential immigrants that can be brought in under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) and we support that. Under the present system, Ontario can only nominate about 9,000 candidates a year.
Increasing the number of immigrants under the OINP will give the province flexibility to recruit more trades, especially those with specialized skill sets who work in residential construction. The carpentry-related trades, low- and high-rise forming, concrete and drain, sewer and watermain, and bricklaying are all dependent on skilled immigrants.
We must ensure that the pipeline of workers continues. The government, industry, unions and developers all have a role to play.
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