To call these challenging times for job seekers would be an understatement.
COVID-19 has decimated Canada’s economy, shuttering businesses and crushing the labour market.
With two million Canadians losing their jobs last month, prospects for summer work looking bleak and all signs pointing to a slow recovery, there is a career path forward.
In times of uncertainty, the construction trades offer something that’s hard to find these days: a pandemic-proof career.
Just a few months ago, who would have thought that COVID-19 could derail so many aspiring careers? From the airlines to law firms, retailers to restaurants, few sectors and workers have been left unscathed by a virus that has ravaged the global economy.
Suddenly finding a career that can survive and thrive during COVID-19 is a real consideration. That’s what catapults the construction trades to the A-list of careers that can easily withstand a worldwide economic meltdown.
If timing is everything, the trades have that in aces. An aging construction workforce coupled with declining birthrates have opened up all kinds of opportunities. This decade, the construction industry alone is hiring as many as 300,000 workers to replace retiring boomers. And as our economy evolves, so does demand for these highly skilled jobs. One in five future jobs will involve the skilled trades. In construction, the possibilities run the gamut, encompassing more than 50 career options from engineers and project managers to electricians and heavy equipment operators.
Construction is an essential business that’s rife with employment opportunities.
While COVID-19 brought many sectors to a standstill, construction has kept our economy moving by building and maintaining critical energy, health and transportation infrastructure. Throughout this global crisis, construction has demonstrated its ability to quickly pivot, problem solve and adopt to stringent public health regulations to protect workers and keep jobsites operating safely.
Not all sectors of Canada’s economy are going to recover at the same rate. We’re in unchartered territory, entering a new normal, where no one knows for sure how many will return to work or when.
What we do know is that construction will play a pivotal role in Canada’s economic recovery. As governments at all levels consider stimulus packages and projects to get people back to work quickly, this is the time for policy-makers to think about how to better support our workforce and economy over the long run.
Canada has a severe shortage of skilled tradespeople. That’s nothing new. But with staggering levels of unemployment, governments should be doing all they can to clear the way for those who want to launch their first or second career in the skilled trades.
For starters, Ontario’s skills training system desperately needs an update. What’s required is a modern, flexible and efficient way of providing training. Focusing on micro-credentials for example, would allow people to gain the kinds of skills that employers needs right now and put those skills to work more quickly. Skills training should also be more widely available. In some parts of Ontario, it is non-existent.
This isn’t the only policy that’s out of step during these extraordinary times. In parts of Canada, like B.C. and the City of Toronto, only skilled tradespeople affiliated with certain labour groups are allowed to work on key public projects.
Qualified Canadians who want to work and support their families, should not be turned away because they don’t have the right membership card.
Now is the time for governments to make it easier for job seekers to work in the trades. For anyone considering a career move, don’t let this pandemic stop you. There are rewarding, well-paying, COVID-19 resistant careers out there in the construction trades.
Paul de Jong is president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. Send comments and Industry Perspectives Op-ed ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.