Trades in demand: Skilled labour shortage headed for crisis levels?
CanWest News Service
Saturday, January 14, 2006
OTTAWA -- Building sites across British Columbia sit idle, with contractors unable to find enough skilled workers to begin construction on existing projects, let alone planned mega-projects such as the expansion of the Richmond airport and Vancouver transit line.
Alberta has already identified $100 billion worth of new construction to be undertaken within the next decade -- provided companies can find enough workers to pour the concrete, build the girders and lay the steel reinforcing rods.
As for home renovation and repair work in places such as Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, get in line: in many cases, there simply aren't enough qualified trades people available to meet the burgeoning demand.
No one knows for sure how serious the shortage of skilled labour is -- 20,000 jobs currently unfilled is a conservative estimate -- but virtually everyone agrees the shortage is likely to reach crisis levels within a generation unless something is done.
In part, the lack of skilled tradespeople stems from the economic collapse of the late 1980s and early 1990s, says Dennis Ryan, director of Industry Human Resources with the Canadian Construction Association.
"That caused a major downturn in the industry, during which opportunities for new trades people were limited," he says. "Now, of course, the situation is reversed. We're facing a tremendous boom, and we don't have the people to build the projects."
If that were the only factor behind the current labour shortfall, the situation would quickly remedy itself as new workers flow into the construction trades to fill the demand. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Thanks to decades of unrelenting, government-sponsored rhetoric on the importance of higher education and so-called life-long learning, young people have been eschewing college for university and shunning blue-collar work for white.
The result, says Ryan, is that the average age of skilled tradespeople is increasing at an alarming rate, and as these workers slide into retirement, there's a shortage of new talent ready to take their place.
As well, the message that a university education is paramount has resonated all too well among educators, parents and young people alike, says Rick Miner, who in addition to his duties as president of Toronto's Seneca College is chair of the Committee of Presidents of Ontario colleges.
"High school councillors are partly to blame. They think college is the default, and college is not a default." As a result, says Miner, many students are being streamed into university when they would be better served by learning a skilled trade in a college setting.
John-Paul Tapp, dean of the School of Transportation and Building Trades at Ottawa's Algonquin College, says the removal of woodworking, welding and automotive "shop" classes from high school curricula is contributing to the problem.
"We need to go back to the old days when we had shops in our high schools, and were able to expose young people to the careers that exist in the trades," he says.
Parental expectations are also to blame.
Hot Jobs 2006
Hmmm... sounds like a good idea for me. I'd be paid better and get more opportunity for sure than doing a shit office job. I dont mind noise, dust, and manual labor. Worked as a truck unloader before... and I have a decent level of strength.
Too bad though. I sent an application to the local carpenter union but they said I'm required to do a pre-apprenticeship thing. Schedule. The fucking schedule. 9 am -3 pm. That means I gotta quit my job to do it. But I got bills to pay. lol. :)