The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) held its third Queen’s Park lobby day in Toronto earlier this month to discuss some of the challenges the industry is facing, particularly the skilled trades deficit.
OGCA members had 28 meetings with MPPs, lobbying on the importance of promoting and retaining skilled tradespeople.
Members of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance, SkillsOntario and the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario also attended to show support as the groups have been working together to find solutions to fill the skills gap. About 91,000 tradespeople are anticipated to retire by 2027, explained Clive Thurston, president of the OGCA.
“This day was a great way to bring everybody up to speed on what is actually happening out there in the workplace, what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to be done. There is a lot underway that this lobby day helped reinforce and promote,” said Thurston, following the event.
In the meetings, the OGCA asked the government to develop a government-wide and multi-faceted skills strategy and appoint a chief skills advisor at the ministry of training, colleges and universities who will be responsible for elevating the public perception of the trades and address barriers to entering the trades.
“We need a commitment from the province and the industry to build and implement a plan,” said Thurston. “We are optimistic that the construction industry and the government will work together to build our critical infrastructure and fulfill these rewarding careers.”
Thurston said although the government is making progress in breaking down barriers to the trades — such as eliminating the Ontario College of Trades and proposing to introduce the skilled trades in the public and secondary school curriculum — more needs to be done to promote the trades to underrepresented groups such as women and Indigenous peoples.
“At the present time there is no real working program to facilitate that and we believe it is long overdue,” said Thurston. “What we have seen in the government bill is a desire to bring it back into the classroom, to raise it to the same level as math and science…We are all looking for better ways to reach the next generation of construction workers because the shortage is there.”
Another issue is that people don’t want to work in the construction industry, Thurston said, adding trades need to be promoted as desirable careers.
“No matter what we do, we are not seeing people sign up to work in construction,” Thurston stated. “That is the problem that has to be addressed and that is something we brought forward. The ministers and politicians we met with seemed to understand that you just can’t dictate that you go out and hire people because, first off, they’re not trained and secondly, they don’t want to work in construction.”
The day capped off with a reception. Special guests Mike Holmes and his son Mike Holmes Jr. spoke about the importance of bringing young people and underrepresented groups to the industry and bringing trades back into the classroom. They also focused on respecting and destigmatizing the trades.
“The takeaway was a renewed respect for folks in the skilled trades,” said Steven Crombie, government and stakeholder relations, OGCA. “So much of our critical infrastructure is built by these trades men and women who often times don’t get the recognition they deserve. We need to do more in society to recognize the important work that they do.”