There are many headwinds blowing against the residential construction industry these days, but the looming labour shortage is of particular concern.
Over the next decade, Ontario contractors in the residential and non-residential construction sectors are going to need as many as 119,000 workers to replace retirees and keep up with the hectic pace of growth, according to figures in a recent forecast published by BuildForce Canada.
Despite all the efforts to date, economists and industry stakeholders still anticipate a labour crunch.
CIBC Economics warned in a recent report the situation requires immediate attention.
Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC, noted the average number of workers per unit under construction has fallen from six to four over the past decade, which is hindering housing production.
There are roughly 80,000 job vacancies in the industry across the country. Tal figures that more than half are for specialty trade contractors.
Disturbingly, the figures show that average tenure in the construction industry has sunk to a record low, which smacks of a willingness among workers to jump ship in search of more money or better working conditions. With a large share of construction workers over age 55, it becomes an untenable situation.
Robert Bronk, chief executive officer of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS), shared his thoughts in a recent opinion piece, noting we are on the verge of a critical worker shortage in the industry.
He says it falls to Ontario’s apprentice system to fill the pipeline and to do that it will require a big effort to reach both students and their parents and educate them about the opportunities in the industry.
Couldn’t agree more.
To ensure there are enough skilled trades workers to build our housing, we must start connecting with students at a young age and make them aware of the multitude of good-paying jobs in construction.
The trades are a pathway to obtaining hands-on valuable skills that last a lifetime. They offer unlimited advancement opportunities and allow young people to earn while they learn.
To encourage more participation in the trades, it is critical that the provincial and federal governments keep pushing programs and strategies to encourage and assist youth and those from underrepresented groups to get into the trades.
The Ontario government recently announced $224 million to build and upgrade union, Indigenous and industry association training centres in an effort to boost training infrastructure and provide more opportunities for individuals to get into good-paying skilled trades jobs that are in demand.
Previously, the province announced an initiative that will enable students to leave school in Grade 11 to train as apprentices in the trades. Upon completion of a two-to-five-year on-the-job training program in the skilled trades, the workers could apply for their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
The program will give students who don’t see themselves in college or university an opportunity to pursue a career in the trades. It’s a good, common-sense move that will put students on the pathway to an apprenticeship.
Another initiative that starts in September 2024 will require students to take at least one Technological Education credit in Grade 9 or 10 as part of their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
There have been objections. A group called People for Education has criticized the plan and maintains it prioritizes filling labour shortages in the economy over learning. The group indicated in a report that the initiative could limit opportunities for students and lead to learning deficits.
We vehemently disagree.
For too long, parents and students have been told the only path to success in life is to go to university. However, a career in the skilled trades is a career that is with you for life. You also get paid while you are training.
In the future, there will be plenty of opportunities in the trades. Apprentices can go on to careers in management or become a company owner themselves.
Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton and the Doug Ford government are driving change. But, with the province hoping to build 1.5 million homes by 2031, we must get more youth and individuals from underrepresented groups into the trades. Presently, only one per cent of high school graduates are registered apprentices. That tells us we have to do a better job.
For the better part of a decade now, we have been talking about the skilled trades shortage. The time for lip service is over. It is now time to walk the talk.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario. He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at email@example.com.