Labour Supply: It is time to implement what we’ve learned
January 6th, 2022 4:42 pm     A+ | a-

By Andrew Pariser/RESCON

Even though the residential construction industry operates 12 months a year, each winter every employer thinks ahead to the spring thaw and increased activity it will bring.

This winter, as we all think ahead, I encourage all members and construction employers to think about labour supply and the small steps we can all take to make a big difference.

From August 2020 to May 2021, I was able to work with Adam Melnick and Jennifer Green as Apprenticeship Youth Advisor advisors. We held over 90 engagement sessions, met with over 400 stakeholders and heard from 5,600 survey respondents. The feedback was clear. First, the skilled trades are a phenomenal career for today’s youth, recent immigrants and those seeking a new career. Second, there are some quick wins out there for government, workers (including unions) and employers. Third, unless the system works together, we will miss the opportunity to make meaningful improvements. Click here for the full report.

In this column, I want to focus on the role of employers and three meaningful improvements they can make to improve the labour supply in the skilled trades.
1. Invest in the Future
Construction has done incredible work and maintained incredible momentum throughout the pandemic. The industry was busy before COVID-19 hit and it has not slowed down since. With extra focus being paid to health and safety and near-term deadlines, many employers – especially sub-trades – have found it difficult to dedicate time and resources to training the next generation of workers. As a result, employers are not keeping pace with training and apprenticeship improvements, program expansions, and the new and improved grants, funding, and general support from the MLTSD and the Ontario government’s skilled trades strategy.

In short, a lot has changed in the last three years and if you aren’t paying attention, you are going to miss out on the incentives and programs created to improve labour supply in construction. Therefore, it is time for employers to get re-engaged and take advantage of the new programs and supports launched. Click here for more information on incentives, programs, and the Ontario government’s apprenticeship page.
2. Create a Job Posting
It has become accepted and common knowledge that we have job vacancies in construction right now, and over the next 10 years we are going to have a lot more (about 100,000 give or take). One of the first steps you need to take is to document your needs and create a job posting. Specifically, there has been incredible growth in the number of people (domestic workers and immigrants) who are interested in pursuing a career in construction. The catch is that you, as an employer, need to tell the world what you need and what you want.

If you can outline your expectations in a job posting, training providers (colleges, TDAs, labour supply pools, immigration centres, second career not-for-profits) and the entire workforce training system can work to meet your needs. Clear communication of expectations ensures role clarity and leads to better candidates. It also leads to improvements in the training system as training providers (if enough employers articulate the same need) will begin to tailor their programs to ensure graduates (domestic workers and immigrants) acquire the needed skills to get the job.
3. Focus on Retention, Not Just Recruitment
As the demand for labour increases, employers are looking to recruit from underrepresented groups, including, but not limited to women, the BIPOC community, immigrants, and workers from outside the construction industry. Regardless of who you want to hire, there is no value in hiring new workers without focusing on how they can be retained.

Employers need to think about what they are offering their workers. Not just money – we pay great wages in construction – but also non-pecuniary benefits. Specifically, do you:
  • Offer mentorship?
    • Is the worker partnered with a senior worker, foreperson or manager to address early issues or questions?
  • Provide orientation (first day, week or month)?
  • Have anti-racism and other important health and safety policies?
    • Are those policies enforced?
  • Have a changeroom for them (if they are female)?
  • Have safety equipment/PPE that fits?
While some of these questions may seem basic, research has shown that some employers can make meaningful improvements in these areas. Further, those improvements would make a meaningful change in the recruitment and retention efforts of the construction industry. Construction is dominated by thousands of small businesses and if every one of those businesses implements the tips outlined in this column and hires one person, the construction industry could meaningfully address the labour shortage.

Stay safe.
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