Canadian Contractor

By Richard Lyall   

Immigration is our best bet: Lyall

Trades & Hiring opinion

The lack of skilled workers is having a detrimental impact on the construction industry, plain and simple.

From a sample of projects across Canada, Altus Group found it now takes 25 to 30 per cent longer to complete a project than it did just five to six years ago, as many workers simply lack the necessary skills and experience.

Adding to the problem, many more Baby Boomers will be retiring from the workforce. Many hung on during COVID but are now getting ready to hang up the hardhat and workboots.

BuildForce Canada reports that just over 245,000 workers are expected to age out of construction jobs over the next eight years, or roughly 20 per cent of the industry’s national workforce.

Yet, recruitment efforts are expected to result in slightly less than 238,000 workers over that period. So, the industry will be short roughly 61,400 workers by 2032.

Not good metrics for an industry that has to substantially raise production levels to meet housing targets over the next several years.

Domestic recruitment alone will not be enough to make up the shortfall. We must turn to immigration.

However, our recruitment efforts are falling short. In 2022, for example, only 455 permanent residents were admitted under the federal Skilled Trades Program which includes construction workers.

It’s a statistically irrelevant number.

The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) is calling on the Canadian government to substantially expand the number of people with specialized skills sets that can be brought into the country to work in the voluntary trades in the residential construction industry.

Over the next decade, the industry will need more than 100,000 workers. The present numbers are just not cutting it.

The residential construction industry has always been one of immigration. Traditionally, many of those who work in construction have come from Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Eastern Europe. They came with specialized skills sets needed in the industry, a strong work ethic and desire to succeed.

We realize that recent developments have raised concerns with respect to immigration, and particularly with regard to the concurrent housing pressures these levels create, but if we are to realistically hope to meet the skilled labour shortages being experienced in our homebuilding sector then new workers from outside of Canada must be part of that equation.

To build more residential units and related infrastructure, we need to ensure immigrants with these skills are prioritized and awarded adequate points to qualify under the existing immigration system.

We encourage the federal and provincial governments to take a more targeted approach to attracting immigrants with the specialized skill sets needed to build residential units and infrastructure.

The residential construction sector is dependent on both compulsory and voluntary trades. Compulsory trades are electricians, plumbers and tower crane operators who have a Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) or are a registered apprentice. Voluntary trades do not have certificates and work as tilesetters, basement and high-rise formers, framers, in concrete and drain installation and finishing trades like railing, tile, hardwood flooring, and trim work. Instead of earning a C of Q, these workers learn and hone their skill sets on the job.

In the residential sector, workers with up to 30 specialized skill sets are needed to build a house or condo.

These workers are in more limited supply because the average age is now over 40 and exceeds 50 in some trades.

In the 1960s, we valued immigrants with specialized skill sets needed to build housing and welcomed them. Today, we have a points system that heavily favours those with university degrees over those who work in construction.

The fix isn’t complicated. We simply need to increase the number of points allotted to immigrants with the skill sets needed in construction, so they successfully make it through the system.

To reach our housing targets, and restore affordability to the market, we must significantly up our game. To do that, the construction industry must have the men and women to build new housing.

Immigration is our best bet.

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at media@rescon.com.

 

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