There is a shortage of skilled trades in the construction sector but how dire is the situation?
That was the question posed to participants of the Tackling the Shortage in Skilled Trades panel at the 27th annual Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships conference held recently in Toronto.
“This is not a crisis, this is a challenge,” said John Beck, executive chairman, Aecon Group, adding over the years, he has seen many shortages come and go in different provinces across the country.
“Yes, there is a shortage, but as with any challenge we face as a company we work very hard at meeting that challenge and resolving the issues. We as contractors have to find solutions.”
He said Aecon is targeting three specific groups: women, Indigenous and First Nations and disadvantaged members of society to address the shortage.
The number one risk affecting Ontario Power Generation (OPG) projects right now is lack of skilled trades, particularly on nuclear refurbishment projects, said Carla Carmichael, vice-president, project assurance and commercial management, Darlington refurbishment project, OPG.
We can’t sit back and let somebody else worry about it,
— Carla Carmichael
“When you look at all the work coming down the pipeline, we need people and we really don’t feel like we are going to have enough people at specific times,” Carmichael stated.
OPG recognized this years ago when they started the project and developed mitigating actions.
“What we did is we started breaking down this problem and the first thing that came about was people didn’t even really understand what the gap was, where the gap was, they had no demand modeling, no supply modeling, basically there was a lack of information,” said Carmichael. “We started looking at how we can help our partners develop those models so we could ascertain really what the biggest issues were. We found out that boilermakers are where we have our biggest gap.”
They see it as a three-pronged approach: data, optimize the trade supply and create new supply by creating awareness.
“One of the big things we recognize as owners is, we can’t sit back and let somebody else worry about it,” she said, adding owners, government, institutions and unions need to collaborate. “Everybody has to come to the table.”
Every sector is experiencing a shortage for many reasons said Joseph Mancinelli, international vice-president and central and eastern Canada regional manager, the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
“We’re not at a critical point but we could get there if we don’t do something about it,” said Mancinelli, adding LIUNA has been working with the federal government to get them to change their immigration protocols for people who want to come to Canada to work in construction. “Those could be changes that make an instant impact on the industry.”
Mancinelli said the industry does not do a very good job of marketing itself to young people. Furthermore, parents are not encouraging their children to enter the trades and students are no longer exposed to trades in high school.
“Everyone, every municipality across the country is being affected,” he noted. “We need the industry to come together and come up with ideas and plans to promote ourselves together.”
Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO, Indspire, a national Indigenous charity that invests in the education of Indigenous people, said the fastest growing demographic in the country is First Nations, Inuit and Metis looking for meaningful opportunities.
“This is not going to happen overnight so listening, patience and working together are very important. It will require openness on the part of serious partners to invest in training, to recruit and retain Indigenous people,” said Jamieson. “You not only do that by stepping up to the plate…but making sure you’ve got Indigenous people represented across all lines of business and it’s a priority.”
Mandy Rennehan, member of the federal advisory committee to help promote apprenticeships and skilled trades across Canada and founder of Freshco.ca, said the industry is siloed and the narrative behind construction needs to change.
“It’s not transparent, it’s dirty and my father and your father and her father were all treated like second class citizens because they were workers,” said Rennehan, adding she convinced the federal government an overarching campaign was needed to show the “sexy of the industry, the technology in the industry and the trust and innovation in the industry.”
Beck said making the industry appealing to young people is key.
“If you ask a young person what it is, they want to do, they want to solve the climate crisis, they want to play with technology, they want to create things for the betterment of mankind. What better industry is there than the construction industry to contribute to that,” said Beck. “If we can elevate the work that is being done by our workers today to something that is respected and contributing to the well-being of society going forward… I think you would be able to find a lot more interested bodies.”
Follow Angela Gismondi on Twitter @DCN_Angela.