Construction hiring: If we build it, there will be work

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Published in the Toronto Star on Tue Apr 03 2012 (Online version with inserts from paper version)

STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

Dana Flavelle Business Reporter

Need a job? Grab a hard hat.

Ontario’s construction industry will need to recruit an additional 120,000 workers over the next nine years, the Construction Sector Council predicts

The demand will be driven by mining projects in northwestern Ontario, as well as nuclear power and transportation projects in the Greater Toronto Area and the Pan Am Games, the non-profit industry organization said in its annual forecast.

At the same time, vacancies will be created by the thousands of baby boomers set to retire over the next decade, the council said in its annual forecast, Construction Looking Forward, 2012 to 2020.

“We’ll see significant increases in demand for boilermakers, millwrights, electricians and crane operators, especially in non-residential construction”, council economist Bob Collins told the Star.  “Industry has to look at this and see how do we address this”.

It will be harder to lure workers from other provinces if global demand continues to fuel the oil boom out west, Collins noted.  And the construction industry will be competing for new hires with other sectors facing the same demographic wave of retirees.

Resource rich Saskatchewan and Alberta currently have the lowest jobless rates in the country, at 5 per cent each, according to a separate report released Friday.

There are other signs the wider Canadian job market is improving, according to a separate report Monday.  The Conference Board of Canada said its monthly Help Wanted index rose 4.3 points to 125.7 points in February, the third consecutive gain in four months. That could translate into 13,900 new jobs in March, the board predicted Monday.

Ontario’s construction industry is facing a number of labour force challenges, said Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.  While Canada’s youth unemployment rate is about 14.7 per cent, too few parents and high school guidance counsellors are steering students into the trades, Dillon said.

As well, fewer industrial plants are expanding and creating opportunities for apprenticeships, the main route to becoming a skilled tradesperson. “Employers are really worried about the shortage of skilled trades-people and yet they don’t train them”.

Immediate job growth will be strongest in the Sudbury area and northeastern Ontario where several mining projects are underway or scheduled to start in the next few years. Further down the road, the “Ring of Fire” group of mining projects in northwestern Ontario will spark demand.

In the GTA, electrical utility investments in nuclear facilities will have a major impact on the demand for key trades and occupations as work ramps up after 2014.  Institutional projects, such as construction for the Pan American Games, transportation and other infrastructure projects, will add to the demand for trades.

“Providing enough skilled workers is a high priority at a time when an aging construction workforce and resulting retirements will potentially reduce our labour availability,” says Pat Dillon, Business Manager of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.

“Industry must maintain the necessary support systems to recruit, train and retain construction workers across the scenario. This support is essential to meet the challenges to replace skilled workers as they retire,” he adds.

The industry is expected to create 43,000 new jobs while another 77,000 people will be needed to replace current workers as they retire, council predicts.

“Our challenge will be to monitor current and proposed projects to ensure we can match the local labour force to emerging demand requirements,” says David Brisbin, Executive Director of the Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario.

Each year, the CSC releases nine-year labour forecasts following consultations with industry leaders, including owners, contractors and labour groups, as well as governments and educational institutions.

The national and regional reports will be available online at www.csc-ca.org in March/April. Forecast data is also available at www.constructionforecasts.ca.

The Construction Sector Council is a national industry-led organization committed to the development of a highly skilled workforce that will support the future needs of Canada’s construction industry. It is funded by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program.

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