Construction analysis calls for more training initiatives and more flexible workers

Nation-wide forecast predicts shift from residential to industrial projects

A new analysis will help human resources professionals in the construction industry plan their training, hiring and recruiting strategies over the next eight years, said the president of Alberta-based Construction Labour Relations.

“The new forecasting tool will keep us a step ahead of labour market changes in the industry,” said Neil Tidsbury. “It provides crucial information to help keep projects on-time and on-budget, to guide human resources planning and policy, training curriculum, career planning and more.”

The report, Construction Looking Forward, is the result of a one-and-a-half-year long project by the Construction Sector Council (CSC) and various industry partners across Canada. The CSC released the national report in June and has rolled out individual provincial reports since then.

The report found that human resources strategies to retain valued skilled labour, promote careers in the trades and attract foreign workers will be a priority over the next eight years and beyond.

“It has been met with a significant amount of praise in this industry,” said Michelle Walsh, CSC communication manager. “It will help decision makers make more informed, strategic decisions.”

One of the report’s main predictions is a significant short-term shift in construction projects from residential, which helped the industry’s employment rate grow 20 per cent from 2001 to 2004, to industrial. The most significant growth in this sector will happen in the Alberta oil sands, in New Brunswick’s forest products industry and in Manitoba’s hydroelectric power facilities.

This trend will force trades people to be more flexible in the type of jobs they do and in where they work.

Trades people who worked in the housing industry will have to move to provinces where there’s still a demand for housing, such as British Columbia, get jobs outside the construction sector, or transfer their skills to industrial construction.

After 2008, the market will stabilize but demand for skilled workers will still outpace availability as the workforce ages and the population growth slows and in some provinces even declines.

The CSC report recommended a significant industry and government investment in training and certification in the long term in order to produce more skilled workers.

The construction industry in Alberta has been trying to prepare for this eventuality by actively recruiting young people into the trades, but even though the province has the most young people entering the trades of any Canadian province, Herb Holmes, the Edmonton manager of Construction Labour Relations, said he doesn’t think there will be enough new workers to meet demand.

The organization is now focussing on workers in other provinces and getting them qualified to work in Alberta. Construction Labour Relations is also offering out-of-province workers incentives to move to Alberta.

The organization has been doing its own labour forecasting for the past eight years, which has helped them prepare for the explosion of projects in the oil sands in northern Alberta.

“We probably would have had a huge problem manning up for the current construction boom,” said Holmes.

Holmes said he’s been approached by other industries about developing forecasting tools to help them with their workforce development initiatives as many of them face similar problems associated with an aging workforce and slow population growth.

He added that the new CSC forecast is particularly helpful because it expands its analysis to other parts of the country and will help the construction industry in Alberta know from where it could get workers and to which provinces it might lose workers.

The CSC will provide yearly updates on all its forecasts. The reports are available here.

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