A Dynamic Year In BC’s Construction Industry – Skilled Workforce Shortage Still The #1 Issue

Written by Chris Atchison - December 21, 2018

It’s been another busy year for BC’s industrial, commercial, and institutional construction sector.

The opportunities have come thick and fast, as have the challenges: all largely due to a complex political and economic environment shaped by local and international forces.

Emerging issues are plentiful -- steel and aluminum tariffs, small business taxes, Community Benefits Agreements,  deteriorating public procurement practices, and lack of prompt payment legislation in BC to name a few – but according to employers, the number one issue is still the over-arching shortage of skilled workers. 

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.

Initiatives like Construction Month, which BCCA debuted in April 2018 and is bringing back even bigger and better in 2019, help to showcase the important role our industry plays in BC’s communities and economy. 

BCCA programs like the Skilled Trades Employment Program, Hard Hats and Hockey Sticks, LNG Canada Trades Training Fund, LNG Canada Connect, TransCanada Coastal Gas Link Connect, and Integrating Newcomers all provide resources and services that connect job seekers to construction jobs, support training, reduce barriers, and improve diversity and on-the-job experience for all.

In 2019 BCCA is expanding its suite of health and well-being services like the Employee Benefits Trust to include Employee Retirement Savings Program and a Retirement Benefit Plan for the construction workforce.

Co-funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, BCCA is leading a strong coalition of industry partners including LNG Canada, the ITA, and WorkSafe BC on a new project to improve retention of women in BC’s construction trades. The details of this new Construction Workforce Equity Project are coming in the new year.   A highlight will be the availability of human resources advisors (at no cost for the period of the pilot program) to employers looking for assistance in managing diversity. 

There are many bright spots ahead: important projects in the global spotlight, investments in social housing, infrastructure, and green building, and a booming provincial economy projecting a $1.35BN surplus. We must work together to fairly and responsibly flow the spoils towards the initiatives that will benefit as many British Columbians as possible.  BC’s construction industry, at nearly 10% of BC’s working population and 8.6% of the GDP, is a great place for government to focus efforts, especially if the effort is grounded in business, not politics.

Chris Atchison is President of the BC Construction Association


CONTACT:  Tom Gogela
Phone:  (250) 475-1077
Email: tom.gogela@bccassn.com

The British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) works with four Regional Construction Associations (NRCA, SICA, VICA and VRCA) to serve more than 10,000 employers in the provinces industrial, commercial, institutional (ICI) construction industry. BCCA’s programs and services include employee benefits (BCCA Employee Benefits), technology tools for bid and project management (BidCentral), and employment programs (Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP)). BCCA advocates on behalf of all employers to ensure British Columbia’s construction sector remains strong. 

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