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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Alberta has to sow the seeds to address the labour shortage today

Joe McFadyen
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Alberta has to sow the seeds to address the labour shortage today

Over the next six years, Alberta will need 20,000 skilled trades workers to support the $22 billion of planned investments in resource projects. Without those workers, those investments risk going elsewhere.

The need averages about 70 new skilled trades workers per week between now and 2030. For those who think that’s a staggering pace, consider that Alberta also needs to build an average of 300 new homes per week between now and 2030 to keep pace with skyrocketing immigration.

These numbers keep those of us in the skilled labour industry up at night. These issues impede economic growth and threaten the province’s long-term sustainability.

Construction employers were encouraged to see measures in the recent provincial budget to address these challenges. In addition to housing investments, there is cash for tradespeople relocating to Alberta and funding to train new apprentices in post-secondary schools.

I call this the “sod versus seed” approach. Both require constant tending, investment and support but have significantly different risk profiles.

Efforts to lure existing workers to Alberta are akin to using sod to plant a new lawn. High visibility and high reward value come at high risk and high cost. Rolling out the green carpet is the easy part; roots cannot take hold without constant maintenance and attention.

Alberta has immediate needs and we must compete for workers, and CLRA supports the sod approach. Bringing workers here now is essential. We’re running Build Your Future in Alberta ads to support the “Alberta is Calling” labour attraction campaign from the provincial government.

There’s excellent value in convincing Canadians to work in Alberta’s skilled trades. Offering them $5,000 to come here is a good idea. It will work.

But what happens when another jurisdiction offers workers more?

Given the Canada-wide skilled labour shortage, the question is if, not when.

We have to sow the seeds for our success today. Developing Alberta’s skilled labour force from within,  using education, training and labour retention programs, is a longer-term approach, but it’s low-risk and high reward.

That’s where the seed approach comes in. A person exposed to learning opportunities about skilled trades at a young age, who is educated and trained for apprenticeship and career options in school, and who is supported by local employers is likely to stay in Alberta and help build up the ecosystem that has supported them through their journey.

A person like that has roots that will hold them here.

Local workforce development initiatives reduce the risk of fluctuating external labour markets, economic conditions and immigration policies. Nurturing local talent fosters a sense of community ownership and commitment to the province’s growth and prosperity.

By investing in education, training and apprenticeship programs, the government and the construction industry can cultivate a robust talent pool within Alberta, alleviating immediate shortages and fostering resilience for the future.

By supporting targeted training programs and skills enhancement courses, we can provide pathways for individuals to transition into the construction industry from other jobs.

These are the workers we will need to grow our economy, build and maintain our jobsites, cities and homes.

Whether we attract skilled tradespeople from elsewhere or support them locally, we must continue to help them grow the deep roots our province’s workforce needs now and in the years to come. 

Joe McFadyen is president of Construction Labour Relations Alberta. Send Industry Perspectives Op-Ed comments and column ideas to

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