The recently released 2017 Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) and Hays Salary Guide offered a deep dive into the trends, challenges, growth and revitalization taking place in the B.C. construction industry.
Russell Carnley, senior manager for Western Canada at Hays, started off by mentioning the dramatic political situation unfolding in B.C. An extremely tight election result has Premier Christy Clark being challenged by an NDP and Green Party coalition to form a minority government.
Despite this uncertainty, Carnley said the sentiment from Hays’ clients remains positive.
“We’ve seen no real impact in terms of sentiment from our clients,” said Carnley. “There doesn’t seem to be the apprehension we saw during the last election.”
The only major impacts he could see would be on large specific projects like Site C and the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project.
Carnley noted that companies are still seeing good candidates relocating from Alberta. He said this is likely a delayed result of the oil slump.
Some of those who were involved in major, multi-year projects that have wrapped up are now looking for new work and coming to B.C., mostly those with experience in commercial construction and the multi-family building sector.
“On the flip side, one thing we are seeing, especially in the Lower Mainland, is a brain drain of Canadians moving to the interior and Vancouver Island,” said Carnley.
Lower Mainland homeowners, he explained, are cashing in on their soaring home valuations and moving to less expensive regions in the province. They are also accelerating their retirement plans and pocketing some of that money for the bank.
Carnley noted he has seen several situations from clients where they had an excellent, happy employee moving, leaving a space to fill. It is also due to the high costs of living in the Lower Mainland.
“Quite often these are people who are getting to mid-stages of their career, with young families and they are wanting more space,” said Carnley. “They are wanting to go from a condo to more space.”
One of the main takeaways from Hays’ research is that the B.C. construction market is becoming exceedingly candidate driven.
“If a candidate is actively or semi-actively looking for a new position, they will get competing offers,” he said. “Candidates have choice in the market. We are even seeing many employers counter offering, in some instances quite considerable percentages.”
However, he added that what Hays is not seeing is a massive increase in salaries. He believes employers may have a psychological attachment to paying a certain job a certain salary and are struggling to shift away from that.
“But what they are doing is empowering less experienced candidates with more responsibility,” he said.
Positions are, in some cases, being reached two to three years earlier than in the past by young employees.
However, one position that is under intense strain is site superintendents.
“The people who work as supers are clearly an obvious aging work force and there is a lack of people going into super roles,” Carnley said.
Part of the challenge is that many young people graduating from technical schools are on track to become project managers. The traditional pipeline to site super is through carpentry. One of the problems, said Carnley, is often a motivated carpenter can earn more than someone vying to become a site super.
As the oil and gas sector begins to recover, Carnley doesn’t anticipate much impact on the B.C. construction sector as most who left during the oil slump for B.C. weren’t oil and gas employees to begin with. However, it could impact remote energy projects in B.C., such as the Site C Clean Energy Project as these megaprojects compete for labour.
He also said it remains to be seen if the oil and gas sector will pay the high salaries it did before the slump.
“One thing you hear about is a hesitancy on the part of candidates to return and relocate again,” he said. “Oil and gas may find it harder to hire than they did last time around.”