Worker mobility key to construction’s labour shortage

The biggest problem facing Canada’s construction industry is the shortage of skilled workers, a problem exacerbated by a lack of mobility among existing workers. BuildForce Canada says in a forecast of industry prospects for the year 2014 that construction companies will have to attract more young workers, and more workers who are willing to move to other parts of the country to follow the work as it ebbs and

Up to a quarter of the current workforce is expected to retire in the coming decade. As many as 300,000 new workers will be needed to replace them. Skilled workers are particularly needed.

The BuildForce study sees non-residential construction projects leading in job growth in the coming years. A number of new resource projects in areas such as Northern Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland will drive a “surge” in labour needs in the next two years. As well, major infrastructure projects, including transit expansion and nuclear plant refurbishment in Ontario will push demand for workers. The growth will be sustained levels of employment in Quebec and the Maritimes, while in Saskatchewan, labour demands will stay “well above” historical levels.

Residential construction, on the other hand, will slow in some markets before a “moderate” recovery in 2015.

The issue of mobility in the labour force is cited by EllisDon CEO Geoff Smith as his company’s biggest problem. In an interview with the National Post, Smith states that it is hard to find skilled workers at all, but even more difficult to find skilled workers who are willing to up and move from home to another part of the country. He said that those workers who are willing to move will get ahead faster, but the problem of getting workers to the markets where they’re needed is “getting worse.”

As for the labour shortage, Smith says that “we did a terrible job” of recruiting for ten years. Now, with Baby Boomers beginning to retire, there is a “gap” in the middle, with acute shortages of every position from bricklayer to electrician to project manager to vice presidents.

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