Canadian Contractor

By Dennis Cinello   

How upskilling can accelerate construction careers and job sites

Canadian Contractor Trades & Hiring

Upskilling throughout your construction career is an essential practice to ensure your skills remain cutting-edge. From the labourer handling machinery to the manager overseeing projects, continuous learning ensures relevance, efficiency, and increased productivity of the whole team. Current challenges with retention and labour shortages faced by the Canadian construction industry make upskilling a more critical necessity than ever before.

What is upskilling?

The practice of upskilling goes beyond the renewal of existing certifications and focuses on closing gaps in skill knowledge to help you complete your daily tasks more efficiently. With a fully upskilled workforce, your team is better equipped to face challenges and support each other through demanding projects.

Additionally, upskilling is essential for staying on top of new trends in technology and innovation. You cannot simply implement new processes without knowing how they work and tailoring technology to your daily operations. Whether you train in a traditional learning environment or through an individual-focused pathway, upskilling in the construction industry is vital for progressing in your career.

Facing industry issues

The construction industry as a whole has struggled with high turnover and vacancy rates while the demand for workers continues to rise. For construction businesses, upskilling leads to a more efficient workforce with more satisfied employees. Employee retention rates increase with a more satisfied workforce as well.  The process of ongoing training through upskilling also helps establish career pathways for employees, making them more likely to stay with a company that shows commitment to their personal development. Different labour studies have shown that hiring new employees is much more costly than upskilling current employees. Additionally, current labour shortages have led to ongoing difficulties in finding and retaining skilled construction workers, with over 30 per cent of survey respondents fearing their most skilled workers are soon to retire. Upskilling current talent at the start of their career is one way for construction companies to mitigate this gap.


Sought-after skills in construction

For labourers and apprentices

Construction labourers need to be nimble and possess coordination and dexterity skills in order to complete tasks effectively and safely. Their strength, stamina, and hand-eye coordination help with tool and machinery operation on the job. Other technical skills include math proficiency and problem-solving skills, which are used daily to complete projects. Soft skills such as communication and teamwork are necessary for high-level projects to maintain safety and compliance while operating within a team.

The foundation of these skill sets is built during apprenticeship training, which combines in-classroom learning with developing skills on the job. However, even after learning the basics, labourers should be looking to hone their skills, especially if they want to advance into managerial positions.

For supervisors and managers

In addition to the already listed skills, managers and those in supervisory positions benefit from learning other administrative and soft skills to advance their careers and effectively coordinate with external stakeholders. Some of these skills include budgeting, scheduling, contract preparation, knowledge of land acquisition, accounting, and file maintenance.

Methods for upskilling

Online training

Online training tools are one method for upskilling that has recently obtained an increase in investment by provincial governments. Through video tutorials, quizzes, and practice activities, employees can reinforce their knowledge. Topics cover a wide range of skills, from technical operations to managing conflict on the job site, which are beneficial to labourers and supervisors alike.

Online training is especially beneficial for staying on top of industry trends and new techniques, as platforms can be updated in real time with new modules and information that employees can complete at their own set pace.

Advanced certifications

Professional certifications are another option for upskilling employees who want to advance their careers quickly. Through specialized construction management training, participants learn the necessary administrative tasks and skills that construction project managers put to use daily. Advanced diplomas in these types of specializations often have an internship component, meaning employers can encourage labourers to take the time to complete the certification without losing them on-site as they can complete their internship with the company.

Use your existing network

One-on-one peer training and industry-specific events organized around upskilling are other valuable modes for increasing skills across the company. Reach out to professionals in your network to inquire about shared opportunities for growth. For individuals, this may involve reaching out to past apprentice supervisors or instructors. For construction company owners, this may be organizing a company-wide training day headed by a mutual leader in the field. For larger companies, there may be an opportunity to organize ongoing mentorship programs for more managers to pair up with junior employees for one-on-one training focused on individual skill building. As construction is a team-oriented environment, often completing high-stakes projects, the value of face-to-face learning in both group and individual settings cannot be overstated.

Tip for employers

By incentivizing the training process through rewarding employees who are diligent about their individual growth, you can encourage increased participation and develop an overall training culture.

As the construction industry continues to advance alongside new technologies with increased investment from governments, companies must redirect their focus on their most valuable assets: their employees. By upskilling labourers and managers, the productivity of teams increases, and paths for development become more clear. Whether investing in your own individual development or that of your employees, methods for upskilling will take your career and company success to the next level.

Dennis Cinello is Vice President of the Skilled Trades Division at Herzing College, a career-focused post-secondary institution. Herzing College delivers high-quality programs designed to prepare a diverse student population to meet the needs of a wide array of employers.


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