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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Collaboration is key in facing labour shortage — Expert

Agnes Watkinson
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Collaboration is key in facing labour shortage — Expert

The labour shortage is here. Not looming. It is here.

A Google search on ‘construction shortages’ pulls up titles like:

  • “Shortages Holding Back the Construction Industry”;
  • “Construction Worker Shortages Worsen…”; and,
  • “Act Now or Face Construction Shortages.”

The labour shortage is here.

With the reduction of people entering the industry, compounded with the retirement of experienced members, we are scrambling to find an immediate solution. Current practice is for firms to pull from the depleting population of trained workers, creating a “candidates’ market.” Inflated salaries, unstable candidate pool, and poaching means the industry is clamouring to extinguish internal personnel fires.

Is this sustainable? Unlikely.

What is a company to do?

I have a suggestion, let’s stop hurting each other.

As the population of skilled individuals dwindles — Canada’s population of 37 million is growing (which means construction will grow).

Taking into consideration baby boomers, other career fields, disabilities and so on… I believe it is not a shortage of bodies, but a shortage of skills. This is a significant revelation and opportunity for us.

Industry is fighting over existing skills and experiences (short term); however, we should be working together to create a sustainable supply of new people with new skills and experiences (long term).

What is the return on investment?

Training, mentoring, and growing new talent can look costly upfront, but it can also mitigate industry losses over time. Consider the following:

  • Healthy and Safety practices and insurance increasing;
  • Tighter profit margins due to salaries increases, jobs delay’s, etc…;
  • Potential for increased change orders due to experience gap;
  • Lack of “management ready” personnel to infill the retirees; and
  • Financial cost of employee turn-over and cultural cost of same.

At NextGen, we believe in a collaborative approach to bridging this gap. The resources are here scattered throughout union halls, member affiliations, not-for-profits, and construction firms.

NextGen is mapping out these resources and bringing them together to create a collaborative plan to tackle the shortages and ensure future generations do not experience a similar fate.

Currently, we work with post secondary institutions to gather, vet and qualify students graduating from construction relevant programs. We prepare them, give them resources, and match them with progressive firms committed to protecting their future. We then stay with them for one year. They are placed into a leadership program that includes one-on-one coaching (our leadership coaches come from industry). This acts as a catalyst to prepare our juniors for career advancement sooner.

You might be thinking, “This is not enough, we need more”, and that would be the absolute truth.

We propose to come together under one banner and say, “Let’s fix this together!”.

We appreciate that this column may not be for some readers. What we propose is a huge undertaking and accept that there is no cure-all. The compounding issues of how we got to these shortages are complex and we (and experts alike) feel the solution needs to be multi-faceted. We need to repopulate what we have lost, what we will lose, but also what we need to grow.

If you are in management looking at the next 10 to 20+ years to come, and find yourself shaking your head in uncertainty, keep reading.

What is utopia? Is it a self-sustaining ecosystem of individuals entering construction, fully trained, with a leader’s mindset, starting on projects? Couldn’t we work together to accomplish this?

That utopia defines the NextGen initiative. We are bridging the gap through a collaborative and integrated approach. There is a belief that a career in construction isn’t attractive. We are making the public aware of the amazing and long-lived careers available within our precious industry. Together, we can make construction attractive again. We can properly train and engage our younger generation to fill the void not just with their bodies, but with their skills.

NextGen is putting out the rally for action on media and industry platforms. We are pounding the pavement to engage progressive and forward-thinking industry members to join our cause.

If you are interested in learning more about the NextGen initiative, please find us online at

Or reach me, Agnes Watkinson, on Linkedin and review our postings of events, seminars, articles, podcasts and success stories.

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Recent Comments (2 comments)

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Mark-André Simard Image Mark-André Simard

Great article, what areas of skilled labour are you dealing with?

Agnes Watkinson Image Agnes Watkinson

As of today we predominantly work with post secondary students (Architectural Technology, BIM, Construction Management, Etc….). However, we have recently started talks with OYAP on their graduate high school students, to help place them into coop and employer trade programs. As well, we are working on proposals with the carpenters union and Liuna on joint initiatives. We are expanding our reach each week and hope more industry members get involved with our program and initiatives to raise awareness of construction as a viable career option. You will see us posting more shortly!


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