As labour shortages cause anxiety across the construction industry, B.C.’s new minister of state for workforce development says it’s time to get youth into the trades and make it easier for foreign residents to get the jobs they are qualified for.
“We’re in a supply driven labour market,” said Andrew Mercier in an interview with the Journal of Commerce.
“We know we’re going to need to fill one million job vacancies over the next eight years. We know in construction we’re going to need to fill 83,000 by 2031.”
Looking specifically at construction, Mercier said one of his focuses as minister of state is raising the profile of the trades to bring more young people into the fold, work that is already underway.
“We need to focus on getting more young people into the trades and a part of that is the work we’ve been doing with skilled trades certification, raising the prestige of the trades,” said Mercier.
He said recent outreach work resulted in 75 per cent of parents saying they were encouraging one of their children to pursue a career in the trades.
Mercier noted there isn’t just a labour shortage but also a skills gap.
“You don’t just need people to work those jobs, you need people who are trained and who are skilled,” he said.
“We know that skilled workers are more productive workers. Trained workers have a higher value add for employers. We need to focus on training.”
But, as has been said by construction industry leaders, bringing more people into the trades is not helpful if there are not enough apprenticeship seats to accommodate them, an issue Mercier said will be addressed throughout 2023.
“We need to make sure that we’re investing in training and in the coming months. You’ll see our Stronger B.C. Future Ready Plan, which is a focus on investments in training, in skills training and post-secondary and innovative work force development issues, so that we can skill people up to where they need to be.”
He said Future Ready will build on the introduction of certification and surge funding to increase training room for in-demand trades.
“We need to have a training system that is geared towards responsiveness to the labour market and industry and that’s the direction we’ve been moving in.”
Mercier has also been appointed as the first minister of state for foreign credential recognition.
“There’s a real need to ensure that we have clarity for folks with foreign credentials and how they can get into their fields and use their skills in a way that’s best for them and best for the public,” he said.
“In the built environment, you look at architects, engineers ― those types of project professionals.”
Mercier framed his ministry’s work around foreign credentials as a “social justice issue.”
“If you have a background in civil engineering, it’s better for you and it’s better for the public if you’re working as a civil engineer and not in the gig economy.”
In 2017, the province created the Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance.
“To oversee the foreign credential process for (five) regulated professions,” said Mercier, “we’re going to be bringing forward and working on legislation to expand that role to make sure that we’re removing barriers for skilled immigrants in their chosen professions but also providing career pathways for people.”
With many job openings and wages expected to rise this year for construction labour and trades, the motive is in the message.
“I tell people all the time, ‘If you want to buy a house, get into the skilled trades,’” Mercier said. “This is an opportunity for young people in British Columbia and for people looking to change careers to get into the trades.
“Every time I talk to a young person who’s a fourth-year apprentice or a new journeyperson, you’re talking to someone who has a bright future ahead of them and is over the moon with the life choices they’ve made.”
Follow the author on twitter @JOC_Evan.