We’re in the thick of a construction boom across the Waterloo Region.
Having been named the second fastest growing urban area in the country, population growth and infrastructure development show no signs of slowing down. In recent years we’ve seen a spike in building permits, the highest they’ve been in 20 years. While this construction boom is great for economic development and helping us reach our desired social objectives, it poses a much bigger problem as we feel the effects of the skilled worker gap.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, Ontario will face a shortage of 190,000 skilled workers this year. The shortage is projected to nearly triple by 2030 to a staggering 560,000 vacancies.
The harsh reality is that skilled tradespeople are retiring faster than we can replace them — our demographics are working against us. As the construction boom strengthens and Canada’s aging infrastructure requires increasing attention, the existing skills shortages in our industry will become more and more acute.
The current model is far from sustainable — forcing contractors into slowed company growth, significant project delays and increased debts.
A skilled workforce is essential to a productive and sustainable construction industry. We know that quality, comprehensive skilled trade training is fundamental to the development of a skilled workforce — but how do we effectively recruit and retain talent that exists among future generations?
The provincial government recently announced that they will be investing $9.2M into in-classroom training for apprentices and pre-apprenticeship projects into our local Conestoga College, helping prepare young people for careers in the skilled trades.
This initiative will contribute to bridging the skills gap in Kitchener-Waterloo and throughout the province, preparing future generations for good jobs and careers in the trades. It will help companies find talent and open doors for people who want to work.
While this funding will work in a significant way to address the skilled trades shortage, it will only be of benefit to those who have made the choice to pursue them as careers — what about those who have not yet considered pursuing a career in these fields?
It is our responsibility — as institutions, employers and the industry as a whole — to do a better job at enticing young people and their parents/mentors/caregivers to consider the construction trades as a viable career opportunity.
In many ways, this is more important than the education, qualifications and training required for younger generations to take over these vacant positions. Our institutions have had these training programs implemented for years — the real problem lies within encouraging enrollment.
As industry leaders, we must take part in ending the stigma around the skilled trades.
Careers in construction are highly rewarding. They offer flexibility, income stability and job security. Working in construction also provides the chance to make valuable, tangible contributions and be exposed to the latest technologies — amongst many other benefits.
While many would argue that automated technologies are diminishing the need for construction jobs, no system or program will ever be able to fully manage the variables that exist in this industry — at least in this lifetime.
We need to engage the broader public in a larger conversation — addressing the construction industry, its unique benefits and need for accountability. Government announcements as of late revolve around teachers, nurses, the automotive sector and factories while the construction industry is routinely overlooked. It’s not an industry that is at the forefront of people’s minds, yet it is all around us. Many industries would cease to exist without buildings and infrastructure.
The issue isn’t just about the shortage of skilled trades, but the shortage of workers to begin with.
While industry leaders, government programs and incentives are laying the foundation for closing the skilled labour gap, there is still work to be done to empower millennials and Generation Z to pursue lasting careers in construction.
As employers, we work hard to offer competitive wages, extensive training and supportive work environments. It will become increasingly important for the industry to get involved at the middle and high school levels to ensure the future workforce is mentored effectively, equipped with the proper tools and technology, and given a voice — while we as industry leaders prepare for their arrival.
Wade Gayowsky is Stonerise Construction’s executive vice-president. Send comments and Industry Perspectives Op-ed ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.