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Labour, OH&S

The ‘she-cession’ and construction, a tale of woe and opportunity

Peter Caulfield
The ‘she-cession’ and construction, a tale of woe and opportunity

Canadian women have suffered proportionally more than men in the job market due to the government-mandated shutdown of the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although most economic recessions have had their biggest employment impact on men, this downturn has been dubbed a “she-cession,” because it has done its worst on the Canadian service sector – restaurants, retail, childcare and education – where over half of employees are female.

According to the latest (May 2020) numbers from Statistics Canada, female employment has dropped by 17 per cent, compared to a 14.5 per cent decrease for men.

Women aged 15 to 24 are the worst hit, with a 38 per cent fall in employment.

The job market still has opportunities, however, if the unemployed know where to look, say construction industry stakeholders.

Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, says the construction industry offers unemployed women a safe harbour during the current stormy job market.

“Construction is an essential industry in a vulnerable economy,” said de Jong. “Housing and important infrastructure still need to be built.”

Experience has shown that women excel at the construction trades, he says.

“If you’re looking for work now, you can get started right away on a career, not just a short-term job,” de Jong said. “Because construction apprentices don’t spend all their time in the classroom, they can earn while they go to school.”

Work sites are safe, too.

“There’s an enhanced level of safety now, to protect construction workers from the coronavirus,” de Jong said.

Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada, says the opportunities for women in in all areas of construction are better than ever.

“Between 2020 and 2029, approximately 257,000 people will retire from construction, but only 228,000 new entrants are expected,” he said. “That means a shortfall of almost 30,000. As a result, the construction industry is looking to women to help fill that gap.”

The best way for someone who is interested in a construction career to learn more is to simply do some research, added Ferreira.

“Local construction associations are the best sources of local information about construction employment opportunities,” he said.

When it comes to construction job demand in B.C. there is continuing growth and opportunity with traffic control persons (TCP).

The only provider of high-risk traffic control training in B.C. is the BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA), says Teresa Holloran, the organization’s Traffic Control Program Quality Assurance Specialist.

Holloran says a TCP (flagger) directs traffic safely through a work zone, while protecting themselves, other workers and the general public.

“In 2019, BCCSA’s 38 instructors across the province trained or re-trained approximately 9,000 flaggers,” she said. “Their number keeps going up all the time because there’s a continuing strong demand for them.”

BCCSA’s instructors, who are all independent, put on a two-day course that costs anywhere from $200 to $500.

The course has classroom and practical components, with an examination at the end of instruction.

“It’s a great job for anyone who likes variety – different work assignments all the time – and who likes to work outdoors,” said Holloran. “At the same time, it’s not a job for everyone. You’re on your feet all day and you need to be always alert to possible dangers.”

Another employment option is construction safety officer (CSO), also called national construction safety officer (NCSO).

BCCSA director of health and safety services Erin Linde says both designations enable someone to become a qualified construction industry health and safety co-ordinator.

“NCSO adds a national component,” said Linde. “Because its designation is recognized in all provinces, NCSOs can work across Canada and have their designation recognized.”

Linde says NCSOs administer and implement a company’s health and safety program and conduct internal risk management audits.

“Safety on the construction site is and will always be a top priority,” she said. “So, there will always be a need for qualified safety co-ordinators.”

To become an NCSO, one must complete 10 compulsory courses and two elective courses, as well as a safety proficiency assignment and the national and provincial NCSO exams.

“There is no set time to complete NCSO training,” said Linde. “It is a self-paced program, so students are responsible for creating their own schedule. It can be completed in as little as two months or any amount of time after that.”

The cost of NCSO training is approximately $1,200-$1,800.

For more information on how to become a TCP or NCSO, go to the BCCSA website


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