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Builders see skilled trades shortage looming

Services like this Co-op and Career Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University are increasingly important for graduates, according to a new report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

With an aging workforce and the challenge of locking down apprenticeships, the need for more skilled trades workers will only continue to grow in Canada.

A report released this week says the home renovation industry will need 129,000 new skilled workers in the next decade. Waterloo Region is no exception, says Jamie Adam, chair of the Ontario Renovation Council and president of Pioneer Craftsmen.

“I certainly agree that there’s a huge demand right now for skilled trades,” Adam said. “We need to make sure that our colleges and training institutions and the Ontario College of Trades ensure that there are lots of opportunities for young people to get involved in the trades, earn their apprenticeships, and there’s a little bit of a challenge there now with the apprenticeship ratios we’ve got.”

Just in his company alone he expects three senior carpenters to retire in the next five years, a significant loss for a business of 25 employees. He says there needs to be a change in the apprenticeship to journeyperson ratio to bring more young trades people into the industry.

“The industry and the Ontario College of Trades need to move toward a one to one apprenticeship to journeyperson ratio so that we can open up more opportunities for people to get their experience in and take their schooling,” Adam said. “There are all sorts of provincial and local policies that are certainly driving a change in where we’re spending our renovation and new home build dollars, so we all need to be able to adapt and understand where those dollars are going to be spent very soon as well.”

As it stands, for the carpentry trade you can have one apprentice for one carpenter for the first apprenticeship, but after that there must be three licensed carpenters per apprentice. Adam says while they have apprentices, they’d love to have more, but can’t meet the ratio requirement.

“Right now the Ontario College of Trades has hit a bit of a pause button as we go through a consultation now,” Adam said. “What is the College of Trades going to be like in the future, it’s something still relatively new in our province. The Kathleen Wynne government had promised they would make a consultation on how to improve the College of Trades so that is underway right now.”

After the head of the Ontario Public Service Tony Dean’s report comes out, Adam says he’s hopeful they’ll be able to move forward and see reductions in the apprenticeship ratios. The aging workforce is another large concern since the average carpenter is near 60 years old, a huge cohort which will be retiring in the next few years.

“We need to make sure there are enough people to soak it all up and learn before all the skilled people decide to retire.”

The report, released by BuildForce Canada and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association estimates 114,000 skilled workers will retire by 2024 and an additional 15,000 will be needed to keep up with residential construction and renovations.

“Our report recognizes the specific needs and challenges facing residential construction employers,” said Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada. “By tracking cycles in new housing construction, trends in renovation, and impending retirements of workers across the industry, we’re helping employers make the most informed decisions possible about labour force needs in this important sector.”

The report indicates about 43,800 skilled workers in Ontario alone are expected to retire by 2024, 22 per cent of the residential labour force. Not surprisingly, Ontario is expected to see the most retirements out of the 10 provinces.

Adam says the push for skilled trades needs to start with the education system, the same way other fields are encouraged.

“We need to be promoting the fact that great livings, great wages, great lives can be created through the skilled trades,” he said. “Look at the high tech or all the other industries and trades historically has just not gotten the attention it deserves. Shortly, we’ll see some major challenges with the lack of skilled trades.”

At the ground level it means homeowners are waiting longer for renovations to start. He says there’s a bit of a backlog and a renovation that should be started in two months is more like four months now.

“My hopes are that the government understands, sees that there is a huge need for skilled trades opens up more opportunities for young people to get involved, lowers the ratios to a one to one and promotes more the skilled trades to our young people,” Adam said.

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