SHANNON MONEO - This year's Vancouver Regional Construction Association's (VRCA) salary guide not only reveals what the "going rate" is, but also highlights how to find staff in a tight labour market.
Produced in partnership with Hays, the 2014 Salary Guide makes it clear that a labour shortage is brewing because not enough new workers are available to replace industry retirees and to meet demand from other industries within B.C.
“We know retirements far exceed numbers coming in and when overlaid with the opportunities of new projects, we have a perfect storm,” said VRCA president Fiona Famulak.
The key, she said, is to attract - and retain - Generation Ys (those born from about 1980-1994).
But, it is also important to let students know that a career in construction is desirable.
“The number of students, who choose a career in trades, has to increase seven-fold to meet demand,” said Famulak, who is nine months into her tenure as president.
She noted that the definition of “construction” is broad and deep.
Construction work includes white collar managerial and design jobs, as well as the blue collar trades work.
“We have to raise the awareness of jobs in construction,” she said.
“There’s a perception that it’s wet, cold and windy work, and not well paid. But, wages outpace similar positions in other industries.”
According to the 2014 Salary Guide, wages are the number one reason employees leave a company.
Data for the report was collected from across B.C., with 84 per cent of respondents from the Lower Mainland and the remainder from throughout B.C.
In Vancouver, almost one-third of construction companies say they’re losing staff to other provinces, with the highest number of professional staff headed to Alberta.
Russell Carnley, a senior manager for Hays’ Vancouver office, said that 57 per cent of Alberta companies will raise salaries by three to six per cent this year, while 38 per cent of B.C. companies will bump up salaries by three per cent of more.
Building on the skills drain, is that Calgary and Edmonton are on highrise building binges and with their higher wages and cheaper costs of living, skilled Vancouver workers are supplementing the less established Alberta workforce, Carnley said.
After salaries, the 2014 guide found that career progression is the next most important drawing card for employees.
If B.C. employers can’t pay as much as Alberta counterparts, they can incentivize employees, Famulak said.
Ongoing training, mentorship and the development of upward career paths are crucial incentives.
“Employees stay because they like their employer, they buy into the culture of an organization and they can grow,” she said.
“If one or two of these factors are not in place, employees will look around.”
The guide found that more than 80 per cent of employers will offer employee professional development within the next year.
When it comes to skills shortages in the Vancouver market, project managers, superintendents and estimators are hard-to-find.
And, as 2014 continues, Hays anticipates that there will be an almost 10 per cent shortage of top professionals in the mechanical and electrical contracting sectors.
Carnley attributes that to the feverish pace of highrise construction in Greater Vancouver.
Now that many of the structures are up, over the next three to five years, the highly-technical mechanical and electrical workers will be in demand for interior finishing.
Overall, the guide found that the main recruitment challenge for 45 per cent of employers was the quality of available candidates.
When suitable candidates aren’t available, companies recruit outside provincial boundaries.
The guide reported that 42 per cent of companies have gone looking outside of B.C. for construction management staff, while 28 per cent have sought beyond Canadian borders.
“Recruiting for off-shore workers goes in phases,” Carnley said. “It depends how easy it is to get a positive labour market opinion.”
He noted that Vancouver is an attractive destination for foreign workers, but there is a flip side.
“Not that many companies are willing to jump through hoops to hire foreign workers,” he said.
“There’s very strong talent that’s being missed.”
He touts well-trained workers from English-speaking countries like Australia and the United Kingdom.
Acutely tied to skilled shortages are succession plans, which have a significant effect on retention.
Only 58 per cent of employers have succession plans in place, states the guide.
“It behooves the employer to look at succession plans,” Famulak said.
Companies have to consider whether they have enough senior managers, who can train and mentor up-and-coming employees.
If they don’t, the junior employees will follow the dollar signs.
“A lot of companies have people at the end of their careers, but companies aren’t getting a sense of who can be the new boss,” Carnley said.
Companies must determine who has the smarts and when they’ll be ready to step into their new role.
“It’s not an overnight thing,” he said.
Carnley advised that when companies hire, candidates should be made aware that in the future, when senior employees retire, there will be advanced positions available for which they can be groomed.
Famulak said there will always be a demand for workers in construction.
“If you choose the trades, you can progress to management or start your own business,” she said.
The 2014 VRCA Salary Guide will be focus of one of the workshops at the VRCA’s 3rd Annual Construction Learning Forum in Whistler, B.C.