Strickland: Industry taking steps to fill dearth of skilled tradespeople

At first blush, the numbers are worrisome.

Over the next decade, we are expecting an estimated 95,000 construction workers to retire, but based on current projections only 50,000 skilled tradespeople will be there to replace them.

That shortage of 40,000 skilled construction workers is coming at a time when Ontario has several big projects on the books. The unionized construction sector is currently working hard to ensure facilities across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are ready for the Pan Am Games next summer.

The $50-billion Big Move project by Metrolinx is the foundation of a massive expansion of public transit across the province.

Construction crews in the north are being kept busy with the upgrading and development of mining facilities. Investments in energy infrastructure — like the refurbishment of the nuclear generators at Darlington — will ensure steady work for years.

That is not to mention the continued development of condominiums and commercial buildings across the province, the upgrade and maintenance of road and bridge infrastructure, the building of the Herb Gray Parkway in Windsor . . . indeed, there is more than enough work on the books to keep the construction sector busy.
Which brings us back to the need for workers. These projects need to be built, and we need to ensure we have the human resources in place to complete them. This is not a problem that will resolve itself.

And we cannot wait for the shortage to be upon us before we act. The solution to tomorrow’s problem can be found in today’s classrooms.
One of the challenges our industry has faced is perception. For the past two or three generations, it has been drilled into students that the best path to a full and rewarding career heads through a university.

Simply put, that is not the case. A career in the skilled trades offers an excellent salary, benefits, pensions and job security. It is also work of which you can be proud, helping build communities. It is with events like Future Building 2014 that we are trying to ensure today’s students are fully aware of the career options that lie before them.

We designed the show to give students a sample of several of the construction trades, allowing them to do hands-on work building a brick wall, framing a house or laying pipe.

But awareness is just the first part.

Once we have students aware and interested in pursuing opportunities in the skilled trades, we have to be ready to train and prepare them.

Collectively, the labour/management partnership of the unionized construction sector has invested $260 million into 95 joint union/employer training centres across Ontario, and spends another $40 million annually on the delivery of apprenticeship training, skills upgrading and health and safety awareness.

These investments ensure we provide the supports and mechanisms apprentices need to successfully complete their training, and it works. Our joint training centres see more than three-quarters of all apprentices complete their training and become journeypersons — higher than the industry average.

Obviously, the more apprentices we can see through to a journeyperson, the better able we will be to address the skilled labour shortage.
Sean Strickland is the chief executive of the Ontario Construction Secretariat. a partnership of 25 building trade unions and signatory contractors in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors.

Source: IF Press

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