Skilled Labour Shortage

Industry Priority

Overview

The BC Construction Association (BCCA) is reporting better than expected results for BCs skilled workforce, in key figures released today for the province’s industrial, commercial, and institutional construction sector.

One of the biggest gains comes in the ratio of BC high school graduates entering construction trades training programs within one year of graduation.  When the BCCA first began calculating this number in 2013 it estimated that 1/93 students went from Grade 12 into trades training. In 2016 that number has improved by 35% to 1/69.

“Our youth are getting the message that the trades can be a very rewarding and lucrative career path,” observes Manley McLachlan, BCCA President.  “Even so, we would need 1/10 high school graduates to enter the trades in order to have enough skilled journey people for the jobs that are coming.”

Earlier this year Buildforce Canada revised its estimate for BC’s skilled worker shortage to 15,000 by 2025, which is 51% lower than their 2013 estimate of 30,500.

“It’s very important to understand that the main reason for the predicted skilled worker shortage is retirements,” cautions McLachlan.  “If liquefied natural gas projects go ahead, the gap gets even bigger.  Do not make the mistake of disregarding the worker shortage because of lack of progress on the LNG side. The workforce pressure is on regardless.”

In BCCA’s 2018 industry survey 68% of employers – regardless of labour affiliation — say finding skilled workers is their biggest challenge.   In addition to the hunt for tradespeople, they can’t find enough trained and experienced managers to replace the old guard that’s retiring.

Interestingly, in the same survey, many of BC’s skilled tradespeople identified an “old school mentality” as a problem they experience, with this theme running through their concerns about diversity and the adoption of technology.

BC’s projected skilled trades gap shrunk about 50% in the last five years to a projected shortage of 11,700 workers according to a September 2018 report from Buildforce Canada, but there are persistent cultural and economic challenges that threaten to make the problem increasingly difficult to solve:

  • The male-dominated construction industry has a long way to go. At only 4.7% women, it will take a concerted effort before construction employers can consistently and successfully attract and retain tradeswomen.  While 90% of the 700+ BCCA survey respondents think more diversity is a good idea, 21% of male respondents said industry should not do anything more to support women.
  • Construction trades are still not a preferred choice for most youth, who are often discouraged by parents under the influence of post-war stereotypes. Too many of our youth head off to university for a degree without a sensible career plan, and the post-secondary education industry is often not as innovative or flexible as today’s job market demands.
  • Government and the media continue to misrepresent statistics about the rate of opioid deaths in construction: while even one death is too many, exaggerating the numbers puts an unfair stigma on construction.
  • BC is reporting the lowest unemployment rate in a generation – all industries are competing hard for BC’s best and brightest talent, making it even tougher to tempt the stars away from industries like technology.
  • Youth aged 17-24 are 51% less likely to be unionized now than they were a generation ago. Today’s construction industry is barely 15% unionized, but BC’s new Community Benefits Agreement mandates union participation for all workers on designated public projects: this conscription message risks our ability to attract and retain younger workers.
  • Many apprenticeship level courses are full, with potential participants waiting up to a year for a spot or relocating to another area of the province to find one. This makes it harder to complete training, which slows the entry of new journeypersons to train the next generation.

BCCA’s strategy has long been to provide meaningful recruitment and retention programs and services for employers and apprentices while shining a bright spotlight on the value of our industry and the modern career opportunities it affords.  We are the only provincial organization representing employers of all labour affiliations, and we take that role seriously.

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