Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan recently toured the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades (CCAT) facility where he discussed the need to train more skilled workers and how government and unions can work together to address labour shortages in construction.
“We’ve got a very interesting problem right now and it’s a nice problem to have,” said O’Regan following the tour of the Vaughan, Ont. facility.
“If you had asked me two years ago in the middle of COVID would we be coming out of this with the highest employment rate in Canadian history, the lowest unemployment rate in Canadian history…and here we are. I’m not complaining, but it comes with its own challenges because we need more people in the trades to fix the infrastructure we need to fix, to improve our electricity power grids, to lower emissions to build this country. We need to do this urgently.”
He also spoke about the importance of making the sector inclusive and to get more underrepresented groups into the trades.
“We don’t have nearly enough women in the trades,” said O’Regan. “We don’t have enough people from other communities, particularly Indigenous communities. We have a lot of people in this country who aren’t fully utilized in the trades. We’ve got to think about how we can do a better job of that.”
O’Regan was pleased to hear the college has five female instructors and is working to attract more women.
“There is no better way to show women that they are not just welcome but invited into this industry than when they see other women in the industry and women in roles of authority teaching and showing other people how to do it,” he said.
“These barriers have come down in so many other professions and they are coming down in the trades, we just frankly need them to come down sooner.”
One thing the federal government has implemented is the Labour Mobility Tax Credit which allows workers in the building and construction trades to deduct up to $4,000 in eligible travel and temporary relocation expenses giving them a tax credit of up to $600 a year.
He said collaborating with other ministers and provincial and territorial colleagues is key to breaking down barriers.
“We talk a lot about what can we do about credentials, how can we increase the mobility of workers in this country,” O’Regan explained. “How can we make it easier for Newfoundlanders or Albertans or whoever to work anywhere in this country? How do we utilize the people already in this country to make sure that they are realizing their full potential?”
When asked how the federal government is working to address labour shortages and increase training, O’Regan said they recently doubled the Union Training and Innovation Program funding for training facilities.
“We gave a considerable amount of money to this facility, for instance,” he noted. “We deal directly with unions because we also know that they know exactly what the workforce needs, what the employers that they deal with need. They provide really good hands-on training, thorough training.”
Following the tour, O’Regan said he was impressed with the CCAT facility.
“Some things we learned from COVID do work online, some things don’t,” he said. “You can’t replace what the men and women in here and the apprentices, the training that they’re getting.”
He was particularly impressed by the extent of the work being done on mass timber.
“We started up a fairly ambitious program when I was minister of natural resources,” explained O’Regan, adding it’s low emission, sustainable and esthetically beautiful. “There were a whole bunch of things I wasn’t aware of on the ground that make a big difference.”
He was also impressed by the level of safety training taking place.
“Just the amount of time, the 84 hours each one of them has to spend on scaffolding, for instance. Scaffolding is a huge issue and it’s a safety issue,” he said.
The CCAT was one of a few training facilities O’Regan visited recently.
“I want everybody in Canada to have a greater appreciation for the level of sophistication that is required for these jobs and that it is great work where you are trained very well in a job that pays very well and is very much in demand,” he said.
“We’re pulling back the curtain and drawing attention to that, because I am driven to find more workers in the skilled trades in this country.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.