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Small contractors need to plan for skilled trade shortages


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November 4, 2013 by Brynna Leslie

If you’re a small home renovations company, you may think the impending shortage of trades and training isn’t your problem. Think again.

It may not seem like it, but as baby boomers move out, the labour market is going to tighten up, especially for skilled trades.

“If I’m a small contractor, I have to think about where I’m going to get people to work in my company, how I’m going to compete with other industry sectors, how I’m going to attract the next generation of workers,” says Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada, an industry-led organization that seeks workforce solution for the construction industry.

The overarching issue is the aging population. BuildForce anticipates around 200,000 workers will retire from the industry over the next decade, just shy of one quarter of the workforce.

“We need to be thinking now about where we’re going to get people to replace these workers,” says Sparks. “It’s not just a straight transition, where one person leaves, retires and a young person comes in. Young people are new to the industry, they aren’t fully skilled. There is a lapse of several years until they are fully qualified trades people.”

Accentuating the problem, says Sparks, is the trans-national demand for skilled trades for large resource projects. Historically, the construction industry has met labour market demands by migrating trades people from one area of the country where there was a lapse in employment to another where work was peaking.

But now, even as some of the inter-provincial barriers to training have been removed making migration easier, there are major resource projects going on across the country simultaneously.

“You have various regions demanding specialized, highly-skilled trades all at the same time,” explains Sparks. “At the same time the number of skilled workers is depleting.

While larger companies are being pushed to get on top of apprenticeships and various levels of government are offering incentives for those interested in careers in the trades, small companies have an important role as well, says Sparks.

“For small companies, a lot of it comes down to succession planning,” she says. “You need to be looking as far out as you possibly can and thinking about your own workforce needs for the future.”

This includes offering mentorship and training to young people.

“How are you going to position your company as one that individuals want to work for?”

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Brynna Leslie

Brynna Leslie

Brynna Leslie, contributing editor to Canadian Contractor, is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa.
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