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Construction industry faced plenty of challenges in 2021
January 6th, 2022 4:39 pm     A+ | a-

By Grant Cameron/RESCON

COVID-19 challenged the residential construction industry again in 2021 but employers and workers stepped up to the plate and managed to keep building infrastructure and much-needed housing.

Though challenging, and with cases rising across the province, the industry showed its mettle and diligently followed health and safety guidelines and protocols.

We worked in partnership with Labour, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton, then Chief Prevention Officer Ron Kelusky, and the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association to keep going. As a result, our industry remained open and transmission in the industry was low.

We stepped up our efforts to ensure the industry had the information it needed to stay safe. We held several webinars on COVID-19 in an effort to debunk some of the myths and give the industry the straight goods on vaccines and the pandemic. Our website was regularly updated with details on rapid testing, caseloads, where to get vaccinations, and latest health and safety best practices.

Employers, office and on-site workers deserve credit for following proper protocols and guidelines. Construction is a significant driver of Ontario’s economy so it was important for us to remain open.

Apart from COVID-19, there were many other challenges faced by the industry throughout the year, and some issues that were resolved.
 
Housing Crisis
 
RESCON kept the housing crisis on the radar.

Lack of housing was a key issue on the federal election campaign trail, with the leaders of all three major parties promising action to boost the number of new homes being built across the country.

We were pleased that a new standalone role was carved out in the federal cabinet to tackle housing and that a $4-billion Housing Accelerator Fund will help municipalities build more and speed-up approval times. Ahmed Hussen was also named minister of housing and will work to make housing more affordable.

We are very much dependent on housing to support our economic recovery and must find ways to significantly increase the number of new homes being built. Presently, Canada has the lowest number of housing units per 1,000 residents of any G7 country, so there is much work to be done. The issue remains high on RESCON’s radar. Without more housing, our economic recovery will stall.

To that end, RESCON is sponsoring a half-day virtual housing supply summit on March 3 that will look at key solutions to the problem.
 
Supply Chain
 
Prices for homebuilding materials like lumber and steel increased dramatically in 2021. Cost of concrete was less volatile but still high.
Wood prices increased for several reasons. Sawmills in Quebec were shut down due to COVID-19 and demand was up because of a steadily improving economy with many people doing home improvements.

A pine beetle infestation in B.C. also didn’t help. According to Madison’s Lumber Reporter, the price of two-by-fours made from Western spruce, pine and fir went up 340 per cent.

Steel and rebar prices, meanwhile, increased by more than 60 per cent at one point, driven in large part by the fact production was reduced due to uncertainty in the global economy from COVID-19.

Homebuilders were also hit by a string of supply chain disruptions, which put projects months behind schedule and added to the cost of new homes. The big freeze in Texas, for example, where the electrical grid collapsed in February, affected a Daikin Industries Ltd.

manufacturing plant outside Houston which makes nearly every Goodman, Daikin and Amana air-conditioner sold in North America.
Heating and cooling units became even more scarce and it triggered the larger builders and trades to begin stockpiling and surging typical orders.
 
Labour Shortage
 
The shortage of skilled trades dominated media headlines in 2021.

Recruiting, supporting and retaining the next generation of skilled trades is crucial, as reports indicate that more than 100,000 workers will be needed in construction in Ontario over the next decade. Many of these jobs are in the residential sector, which depends on specialized skill sets.

A report by RBC indicated the national workforce will see a 10,000-worker deficit in 56 nationally recognized Red Seal trades over the next five years, a scarcity that could be widened tenfold when 250 provincially regulated trades are added into the mix.

A report by BuildForce Canada indicated that an estimated 92,500 workers in the construction industry are expected to retire over the next decade — the equivalent of 21 per cent of the workforce — and that based on projected new registrations and completion trends, there might be shortages in several trades.

A labour shortage would have disastrous effects on construction of new housing since we are already underproducing, especially in the Toronto area.

The Ontario government did step up to the plate and enhanced funding for skilled trades training in the fall economic statement.
The government also announced it was investing another $90.3 million over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy, as well as enhancing the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program and the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program.

Investments such as these are important as they provide incentives for employers to train and retain apprentices. The initiatives will also help break the stigma associated with the trades by educating guidance counsellors and educators who have significant influence over a youth’s career decision.

The government’s decision to expand the Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit with an additional $275 million, meanwhile, was also a good move as it will help offset training costs for another 240,000 jobseekers.

Meanwhile, RESCON is making efforts to get more women and people from Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities to consider careers in construction.

We launched a #BIPOCinConstruction testimonial campaign to highlight the diverse and racialized workers in construction in an effort to attract more BIPOC youth to our industry.

We also held a virtual Create the Future event for young women and female-identified students to learn more about careers in the trades.
 
Digitization
 
In 2021, we continued to push for the province to fund the One Ontario initiative that will set the stage to expand the use of e-permitting and speed-up the development approvals process for new housing.

Ontario municipalities need a standardized development approvals process and streamlined e-permitting system to help reduce the amount of time it takes to get housing projects approved in Ontario.

Development applications continue to rise to meet demand, but municipal resources are limited, causing bottlenecks which slows the process.

The One Ontario proposal is requesting funds to establish guidelines for provincial data exchange standards for a comprehensive e-permitting system. Speeding-up the approvals process would results in tens of thousands of additional housing units being built over the next decade – and create jobs.
 
Immigration
 
Immigration has always been key to a healthy construction industry, and it still is. We have traditionally counted on trades from other countries to fill the labour gaps and build our homes and infrastructure. But today, with many of the older workers retiring, it’s difficult to keep up.

With roughly 21,000 jobs in the construction industry unfilled in the second quarter of this year, RESCON continued to advance the cause for more immigrants with skilled trades backgrounds to be allowed into Canada.

Under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), the province is allowed to nominate 9,000 potential immigrants a year. The province is requesting that the federal government immediately double that number to fill the void for skilled trades. RESCON fully supported the request.

Many employers that we represent in Ontario’s residential construction sector are dependent on immigrants with specialized skill sets. Increasing the number allowed under the OINP would give the province flexibility to recruit more skilled trades and ensure the supply of labour continues.
 
Parking
 
RESCON supported and was pleased that Toronto city council voted to remove parking minimum requirements for new residential developments.

According to our data, an average of 33 per cent of parking stalls were left unsold.

The policy change was long overdue since many younger people don’t own a car and, with the increasing use of alternatives like ride-sharing and public transit, it didn’t make sense to require developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces, which drives up the price of new housing.

Digging deeper in the ground to build parking prolongs construction, burdens city sewers and infrastructure with groundwater, and results in vast quantities of soil having to be excavated and disposed of at another location. As a result, the cost of building goes up, driving up the price of housing.
 
Future Challenge
 
Judging by the increasing number of COVID-19 infections, it appears we will be dealing with the virus for some time to come.
The pandemic is still going, and the Omicron variant is much more transmissible, so it is important that we all heed the advice of medical and infectious disease experts.

Make sure to get your booster shots and continue wearing a mask. By doing that, we will get through the pandemic.
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