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Construction’s retirement bubble is here, now what?

Patricia Williams
Construction’s retirement bubble is here, now what?

Given looming shortages, the matter of attracting and retaining skilled tradespeople remains a top priority in the construction industry, agreed panelists at a session at The Buildings Show in Toronto.

Statistics compiled by BuildForce Canada indicate that more than 250,000 construction workers are expected to retire over the next decade in Canada.

“This will be a huge burden if we don’t have individuals being recruited into the space,” said panel moderator Agnes Watkinson, a co-founder of NextGen Professional. “We know that retirement of baby boomers is an issue. But there are a lot of compounding issues, which means you need multi-faceted approaches.”

At the session, the topic was discussed by personnel from construction giant Aecon Group Inc., Local 506 of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), and To Do — Done Renovations & Handyman Services. The Dec. 5 session was entitled: The retirement bubble is here: What can you do to attract new talent.

Commenting on current shortages and the skills gaps, Aecon Buildings project manager Donna Scrimgeour cited field and management personnel.

On another front, she pointed out that there are very few women project managers employed on major construction projects across the country.

“When we are talking about the $1 billion infrastructure jobs, you can count us on one hand,” said Scrimgeour, an advocate for women in the construction field.

Fellow panellist Tonya Bruin, CEO of Ottawa-based To Do — Done Renovations, a firm which she founded in 2015, said 99 per cent of the applications she receives from carpenters are from males.

“I’m always trying to encourage women carpenters to come forward,” said Bruin, who has also noticed gaps when it comes to management personnel.

“There simply aren’t (enough) project managers who have a good breadth of experience in construction itself, who have been able to develop very good communications skills and who have a grasp on new and modern project technology.

 

Apprenticeship should be looked at offering the same opportunities as university and college,

— Donna Scrimgeour

Aecon Buildings

 

Having all of those pieces is really hard to find in one person.”

Merissa Preston, who is involved in partnership and business development at Local 506, said potential candidates for apprenticeship tend to be more familiar with such trades as electricians and plumbers.

Local 506 represents cement finishers, formworkers, water proofers, concrete sawing and drilling workers and precast erectors, among other trades.

“When I go to job fairs, I see lineups at (booths for) the mechanical trades, electricians,” she said. “I have to sell people on the (labourers’) trade, but it is a good sell (in terms of career prospects).”

The local works in partnership with labour, management, government and community service organizations to accomplish its goals.

“It’s a matter of working together,” said Preston, who noted that mentoring of apprentices is an important element in attracting and retaining personnel.

In terms of making young people aware of career opportunities that exist in the world of construction, Scrimgeour pointed to Aecon’s various student outreach initiatives.

Through the Aecon Women in Trades program, led by Aecon Utilities, the company also offers women career-building opportunities in the trades through hands-on-training, mentorship and field experience.

One issue that has an impact on recruitment in the case of construction workers is the fact construction isn’t widely considered a “real” career, Preston said.

“Apprenticeship should be looked at offering the same opportunities as university and college,” she said.

“We need to sell construction. We need to get the government behind us, we need the schools behind us, and we need parents behind us saying this is a great career.”

Bruin noted that one potential recruitment tool in the Ottawa area is the Power of Trades program, which offers pre-employment training and support for immigrants who want to work in the skilled trades.

“It’s a fantastic resource,” she said.

Recruitment aside, retention of existing personnel is also an issue, panellists agreed.

“When we bring on a new person…we take them through every step of the job until they find their niche, so they are not just being exposed to one element,” Scrimgeour said.

She also suggested that large corporations would be well advised to put succession plans in place so that employees are aware of opportunities for advancement.

For her part, Bruin said her firm “definitely leans a lot” on mentoring when it comes to internal staff retention strategies.

To Do — Done Renovations also has a policy of promoting from within.

“Corporate culture is a big part of retention,” she said, noting that millennials in particular are anxious to feel connected to a company that shares their values.

Technology can also be a tool for attracting and retaining staff, Bruin said.

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