Ontario’s ICI sector is booming but the current prosperity is threatened by a severe shortage of project managers and site supervisors, a recent Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) report warns.
Concerted efforts to identify and train those supervisory roles “have been lacking, leaving construction employers scrambling amidst fierce competition to recruit, hire and retain the talent they need to ensure operational efficiency and success,” stated the report, titled Building Pathways and Pipelines into ICI Construction.
The report, prepared by consultants First Work and Purpose Co, prescribes strategies to groom the next generation of leaders, noting solutions are urgent to alleviate a “bottleneck to industry productivity and competitiveness, and a source of operational stress and inefficiencies within individual companies.”
OGCA board chair Bryan Arnold, president and CEO of Eastern Construction, said the problem has existed for years but until now the focus has tended to be on the trades.
“The lack of skilled and knowledgeable project managers and superintendents is having an impact on companies, even ourselves, on our ability to continue to grow and service the growing construction industry,” said Arnold. “It limits what work we can go after. So it’s not a financial limit. It’s not a bonding limit. It’s a limit of resources.”
The danger, he said, is that the sector starts to solve the skilled trades problem but “the skilled trades that come into the trades don’t have any work because we don’t have the supervisors to run the projects.”
An OGCA survey of its members between August and October of 2021 found 66 per cent of them indicated the site supervisor role is their most challenging to fill. Twenty-one per cent said project managers were most challenging to hire, and a further 13 said they struggled equally to hire for both roles.
Fifty per cent reported they are attempting to address the manager shortage through constant recruitment.
The research found due to Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) regulations, site superintendent responsibilities relating to safety are far greater than they were in the past. As for project managers, the report suggested education institutions don’t adequately train for the technical and soft skills involved in the position.
The report noted the construction sector appears to be having success in recruiting workers from among new Canadians — in Toronto, immigrants account for 46 per cent of the total construction workforce.
Commented Arnold, “We get a lot of immigration, and people coming from outside of Canada that have done project management roles in other countries. And that’s great, but their definitions of project management we find are much different than ours.
“So we’ve been challenged and the OGCA is taken on to put a program in place that will help upgrade these people.”
Part of the process was convening a Workforce Action Group with 11 OGCA member contractors who participated in a facilitated process to develop solutions. Arnold noted it’s larger firms with more resources who are coping best.
“The smaller contractors that maybe don’t have the resources and the financial backing to initiate their internal training programs can use this as an industry-wide program,” said Arnold.
The task force developed six potential solutions to the shortages.
“Supervisors and project managers need a combination of solutions,” said Erich Schmidt, the OGCA’s manager for innovation and public affairs.
“It is important we plug in individuals that may not necessarily have had a career in construction, but have the relevant soft skills. Just like it’s important for us to actively recruit onsite and look for individuals that may have the hard skills or may not have had the opportunity.”
Recommended programs for new talent include strategies that focus on bringing new entrants into the industry as junior project managers, such as a proposed Newcomer Bridging Program, geared to skilled new-Canadian talent with international experience; and a New Graduates Bridging Program, open to new and recent graduates.
Programs that focus on upskilling current workers include an Internal Employer Upskilling Toolkit, Technical Assistance Groups for Toolkit Implementation, and Train the Trainer for Current PMs and Site Supervisors.
It was also recommended that a group insurance option for site supervisors be introduced. Arnold noted it’s a well-known problem in the industry that once prospective supervisors learn of their responsibilities under the OHSA, they sometimes balk at going further.
“Often we see that they decide that they don’t want to undertake those responsibilities and the risks associated with them,” he said. “It has definitely been a deterrent.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.