Shortage of trades workers worsens during pandemic

An estimated 64,000 more tradespeople will be needed in British Columbia over the next 10 years

Many companies in BC’s construction industry were hoping that COVID-19 related job losses in other sectors of the economy might help alleviate some of their labor shortage issues. work.

But an influx of new construction workers never materialized, and the industry continues to struggle with labor supply issues.

“In 2020, with COVID, we experienced our first significant decline in construction employment,” said Brynn Bourke, executive director of BC Building Trades.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic, construction employment was expected to increase by 17,000 over the following 10 years; in 2021, projected job growth nearly quadrupled to 64,900, according to data from BuildForce Canada.

Chris Atchison, president of the BC Construction Association, said while some people may have lost their jobs during the pandemic and taken other jobs in the construction industry, their numbers weren’t large enough to show up. in the data.

Atchison added that while shutdowns in other sectors had spurred an increase in construction industry employment, it would have been temporary, as any flow of employees from other industries would likely have reversed once these reopened businesses.

There has been tremendous pressure on industry to maintain the status quo on work that was underway at the start of the pandemic, Atchison said.

At the same time, the industry has increased its number of new projects, which has exacerbated the labor shortage. Significant public and private investments have been made in recent years in infrastructure projects ranging from LNG Canada to the Broadway subway, and other provincial and federal infrastructure projects have been launched during the pandemic. This, combined with the need to repair critical infrastructure damaged by natural disasters, puts even more pressure on an already strained employment landscape.

An outdated training system is at least partly responsible for the trade shortage, according to Bourke. Traditionally, high school students who decide to enter a trade choose their 11th and 12th grade courses based on that decision. Today, the average apprentice is 28 years old, and unlike the old high school model, many have chosen to change careers and join a trade in their late twenties.

Bourke added that the industry is increasingly reliant on this growing labor pool to fill vacancies, but these potential employees are finding upgrading or proving their high school math skills are a challenge. obstacle to the profession.

A lack of awareness is another issue affecting employment levels in the construction industry, according to Bourke. People often overlook the wide range of career opportunities that exist under the trades umbrella, including those in lesser-known trades like insulators or elevator mechanics.

Construction unions, companies and industry groups are working to get more people into the trades by making it easier for them to learn about career opportunities.

“One of the big things we’re working on in the building industry is trying to demystify building,” Bourke said. We try to facilitate as much as possible contacts with people interested in building trades.

BC Building Trades has taken a number of initiatives to attract more people to the industry, including a development program that identifies the skills a tradesperson would need and provides guides to help them overcome some of the barriers to education, such as high school math skills.

But Bourke said not everyone helps.

“There are two different types of players in the industry. Those who train and those who poach.

But as the labor shortage grows, the industry is beginning to better appreciate the time and energy it takes to develop a skilled workforce and, according to Bourke, more and more companies are beginning to take responsibility for training apprentices.

British Columbia is in the process of requiring certification in 10 trades, which means a worker must be an apprentice or journeyperson to do this work. British Columbia was the only province without mandatory trades certification, and Bourke said that will help encourage more companies to take on a training role.

Atchison said the industry is also trying to encourage greater diversity within the construction workforce to help ease the labor shortage.

The industry, which is dominated by white men, hopes that a concerted effort to attract women and new Canadians to the trades will help increase the pool of construction trades talent in British Columbia.

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