The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has joined forces with a group of organizations who are calling on the Government of Canada to invest in and implement a national work-integrated learning (WIL) strategy that would ensure students gain work experience before finishing school.
The group, which is spearheaded by the Business/Higher Education Roundtable and includes leaders from the private sector, universities, colleges and polytechnics, recently wrote a letter to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Mary Van Buren, president of the CCA, said a national approach would make it easier for students and employers to connect and facilitate work placements and make the transition easier for students going from an educational institution to the workplace.
“We’re working in support of a national strategy to have all students, whether they’re in Canadian colleges, polytechnics or universities, to have completed a work-integrated learning experience because we believe that leads to students who are better prepared for the workforce,” said Van Buren.
“We’re continuing to work to fine-tune the application and to advocate for funding as budget dollars become available. Our position is that construction is a great place for students to get experience and it’s important for the government because they also want to support small and medium enterprises. About 70 per cent of our members fall into that category, so that combination is great and students get paid work experience as well.”
CCA partnered with Canadian Construction Innovations to secure government funding for a WIL program targeting STEM students but did not receive funding. The application is in the queue for the next wave of funding, Van Buren explained.
We really need these young STEM students to come in and help solve these problems
— Mary Van Buren
Canadian Construction Association
“Together with the Business/Higher Education Roundtable we are advocating for more funds for these types of programs because it’s good for Canada, students and employers,” she said. “The funding envelopes open up at different intervals and so we are now very well positioned for when the next funding envelope opens up.”
There are many reasons why CCA is supporting the group and its initiative.
“Construction is facing a talent shortage and we also want to become an employer of choice and drive productivity through innovation,” said Van Buren. “It’s an exciting time to be in construction. There are so many career paths and technology…with issues like global warming, sustainability, smart cities, we really need these young STEM students to come in and help solve these problems.”
The organization is also encouraging the government to expand existing student work placements and emphasize placements for students from underrepresented groups.
“There are about 250,000 retirements expected over the next 10 years so it’s also an opportunity to be more inclusive and attract more women, Indigenous and new Canadians to construction,” she said.
CCA is well-suited to deliver on this initiative, she added.
“We have 63 associations we work with, over 20,000 employers from across Canada from small to large, we have links to educational institutions and we’ve been proven as thought leaders getting institutes like the Canadian Design Build Institute and BIM Institute off the ground. We have support from related organizations like Indigenous Works, Polytechnics (Canada) and BuildForce,” explained Van Buren.
“Together we’re all supportive of getting more funding and, for construction, CCA could deliver this program in support of employers and students and educational institutes across Canada. It’s a great partnership.”
Students don’t realize all the career paths that are available to them in construction, Van Buren pointed out. Although the industry has been using the same methods for years, students can help shape the future of construction, she noted.
“Things like design-build, Integrated Project Delivery, using Lean principles, these are all exciting new tools for young people to use and to really drive forward the adoption of technology,” Van Buren stated.