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Economic, Labour

Trades salary stabilization shows money isn’t everything: Impact report

Evan Saunders
Trades salary stabilization shows money isn’t everything: Impact report

Wages across several construction trades are beginning to stabilize amid a realization that raising salaries is not the sole solution to recruitment and retention difficulties.

“I think employers recognize that you can’t just keep pushing up wages all the time. You end up in this out-of-control situation wondering where it’s going to stop,” said Impact Recruitment vice-president of the building division Michael Scott.

Impact recently released their 2023 Salary Guide for Trade Contractors in British Columbia. One of the main findings of the guide is that wages across civil, electrical and mechanical contracting are beginning to stabilize in B.C.

The guide includes a range of salaries for different positions in the mechanical contracting, electrical contracting and civil contracting sectors.

Electrical and mechanical project managers make on average between $85,000 to $120,000 per year while civil project managers make between $95,000 to $120,000.

A mechanical foreman makes an average of $42 to $55 per hour, electrical foreman sits at $42 to $52 per hour and civil foreman $42 to $50 per hour, the guide highlights.

Scott attributed the wage increases of the last several years to a general conclusion that increasing wages was an easy way to be competitive amid labour shortages.

But he said a more complex approach to management which prioritizes employee development and quality of life on an individual basis is a better solution.

This is reflected in the criteria prospective employees have when looking for work, Scott said.

“Rather than just being about the money, now people are identifying a role and saying, ‘Hey, I might get more money at this other company, but this one is a little bit closer to home,’” he said.

He said compensating an individual for loyalty and effort could be through more vacation time, more flexible work hours or other out-of-the-box ways to improve quality of life.

“Those will start to matter more and it’s good, right? It allows employers to be a little bit more flexible about the packages they might tailor for individuals. And I think that’s something important for the future, tailoring packages.”

He said this increased flexibility in job offers has changed the way recruiting functions.

“Employers are really doing a great job in the sense of saying let’s not get into this competitive landscape of offer and counteroffer which goes backwards and forwards. We are seeing less of that.”

And investing in employee development can help with retention in two ways: It gives an employee a sense of growth in their career and can form good relationships between managers and their workers.

“People don’t always stick around with companies because of the projects now. Sometimes it’s just because they really like their manager,” he said.

“If you invest that time to be that very good manager, it does take a little bit more of your actual time. You have to carve out a couple of hours a week to invest in that person.”

The move away from wage increases has another clear positive for everyone, reducing inflation.

“We have this wage spiral that is contributing to the inflation issues that are happening right across the globe. In Canada, I think this morning alone, the numbers came out and they’re down again; they’re at 5.2 per cent for Canada. It’s where we were at 12 months ago.”

Every year, Impact creates salary guides to help workers know if they are earning competitive wages and as a sort of knowledge record and legacy of the state of employment at a certain time in Canadian history.

While wages across trades were stabilizing, there was one outlier: design-based roles where VDC and BIM positions continue to see substantial salary increases.

Part of the continued increase is due to labour shortages, a problem other sectors also face, but there are some particular circumstances.

“As the world progresses, BIM and VDC modeling becomes more important to how you build a project ― buildings become more technical. So, we started to see this need for more people with digital software experience.”

He said the rise of digital technology in construction has had the positive effect of opening the industry up to people who may not have originally been interested in construction and the trades.

Scott said employers need to be vocal about policy that can make it easier for skilled labour to be attracted from abroad and brought into Canada. A more robust foreign credential recognition program can be great for bringing workers into the country amid recruiting difficulties.

Employers attracting talent from other provinces need to implement incentives and ways to make it easier for someone to uproot their life and settle in a new place for a job.

“Maybe it’s a signing bonus, maybe it’s a small relocation fee. But on top of that, how can you get them really up to speed quickly? Do you have that in your organization ready to roll? If not, think about it.”

Follow the author on Twitter @JOC_Evan.

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