Demand for trades across Canada in the Contstruction Sector

Below is an excellent article from Derek Sankey, Canwest News Service regarding the federal stimuls spending has created demand for trades in the construction sector.

Thanks to a better-than-expected recovery in the construction sector, federal stimulus spending and a recent surge in the housing market, forecasters say demand for workers in the skilled trades is strengthening in step with the post-recession economy.

“I characterize it as a soft landing,” says George Gritziotis, executive director of the Construction Sector Council of Canada (CSC), who also cites the government’s Home Renovation Tax Credit as a “potent measure” that provided a boost through the recession.

The unemployment rate in the construction sector hovered around 11 per cent last year and into 2010. But to put that in perspective, it hit close to 20 per cent in the early 1980s and ’90s, and the average unemployment in construction since 1976 is 12 per cent.

“The one thing the recession didn’t take away … is that people age, people retire and move on,” says Gritziotis. “We can’t take our eye off the prize, which is ensuring we keep encouraging people to come into the industry and look at careers.”

The CSC’s labour market research shows many trades in Canada — out of nearly 50 that are tracked — in which workers are considered “generally not available” or “not available and projects must stop or be delayed.”

Electricians, construction managers, gas fitters, residential home builders, bricklayers, concrete finishers and carpenters are among those in greatest demand in its forecast for 2010 to 2018.

The intensity of demand for various trades varies by province. Industrial and resource-based trades dominate in Alberta and Saskatchewan. British Columbia is mixed but has been strong in the institutional and infrastructure fields.

Ontario has a mixed economy, but has strong demand for residential trades and on the infrastructure side. Newfoundland has also been strong with its major offshore oil and natural resource projects, utilities and mining, while Manitoba’s strength is in its floodway and utility projects.

“The big challenge for Western Canada as projects come on stream is that they were relying on workers from Eastern Canada, particularly from Newfoundland, but those workers are busy,” says Gritziotis.

Vancouver’s recent tear of construction projects linked to the Olympics was an obvious boon, but demand across different trades has generally remained strong provincewide, fuelled by demand that’s considered healthier than normal levels.

“In B.C., we’ve been lucky,” says Rod Goy, acting dean of construction at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). “We’ve had six or seven years where things have been hot — real hot.”

Even a more recent lull in that province is still considered healthy demand compared to ten years ago, he adds.

“We’re cycling up and down on top of the mountain instead of down in the valley,” says Goy.

With more people retiring, he’s noticed a distinct lowering in the average age of today’s apprentices. The starting age used to be around 28 years old, but that has fallen closer to 23 recently, he says.

“Because of our rapid growth, we led the way, but this trend was the same across Canada,” Goy says.

A strong housing market nationwide has also boosted investment in tradespeople in that sector. The CSC estimates between 190,000 and 200,000 new housing starts in Canada for 2010, up from its initial forecast for the year.

In 2008, there were 1.2 million Canadians employed in the skilled trades, a number that took a slight hit during the recession in 2009 and fell to about 1.1 million workers, but has started to recover. Some workers left the industry to pursue other careers, while mortality and retirements also took a toll on the workforce.

Demographics across Canada will be hitting worker supply harder in the years to come. For example, in Alberta alone the CSC projects 25,600 retirements from 2010 to 2018, and there will be 23,700 new jobs created. However, only 25,700 new entrants will come into supply through training, leaving a deficit of about 24,000 workers.

“Those workers are going to have to come from other industries, other parts of the province … or foreign workers or the under-represented groups, which are women and Aboriginal groups,” says Larry Rosia, dean of the School of Construction at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.

Training institutions have been ramping up capacity in advance of what’s expected to be sustained, strong demand for skilled tradespeople for at least the next decade. But when times are hot, it’s also difficult to get instructors to train students.

BCIT has increased the number of classes in electrical from 45 to 115 in the last six years to try to meet current and future demand. Similar actions are being taken at technical schools across the country.

“One of our fears is that we may hit the same scenario we had prior to … 2008, where we had peak construction activity and facing shortages all over the country,” says Gritziotis. “As the contractors go off into the sunset and retire, it will be an issue.”

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