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View from the Board - Addressing B.C.'s skills shortage

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by Journal Of Commerce last update:Oct 3, 2014

A quick media scan reveals the attention emerging on the immigration process and efforts to recruit skilled workers outside of Canada.
Manley McLachlan
Manley McLachlan

It is vitally important to understand the link between immigration and the single biggest issue facing B.C.’s construction industry: a shortage of skilled workers.

A frank discussion will support the rationale for the B.C. Construction Association’s (BCCA’s) efforts in addressing the shortage, from the entry-level placements of B.C. employees to our complementary strategy of assisting employers in their efforts to secure highly skilled and experienced workers from outside of Canada.

I am often asked why we wouldn’t just hire high school graduates to fill the shortage.

My simple answer is that you don’t graduate from high school with any experience.

The reality is that the middle management of the construction industry will be hollowed out by retirements over the next five years, and indications are that B.C. will need an additional 20,000 skilled workers to build the major projects that are scheduled. A company that loses its middle management capacity also loses its ability to hire entry level workers into the apprenticeship system.

Apprenticeship requires three things: a job; someone senior to train a new worker that’s in the job; and sufficient time for the trainee to be on the job and move through the system.

All this fails without the senior position in place.

The BCCA has three complementary employment programs to address the full spectrum of skilled labour shortage. All three are driven by employer demand.

STEP and Job Match assist British Columbians become new workers in the industry. Over the last six years, we’ve placed nearly 7,000 B.C. workers, and the vast majority of these folks have been entry level.

BCCA employment programs are targeted to assist people of all ages, including those from the Aboriginal community, landed immigrants and women.

Our province-wide network of 50 field staff are in constant contact with employers, staying on top of demand.

This is an important part of our Connector Model approach and is key to building employment and careers.

The third BCCA employment program is the Foreign Skilled Workers program, funded solely by BCCA members. Many B.C. employers are struggling to find the specialized workers with the necessary experience and qualifications. When we connect a 35 year old Irish or American carpenter, with 20 years of experience, to a B.C. employer, we achieve two big wins. We backstop middle management so companies can take on apprentices and we build the capacity of the industry to insure investors continue to view B.C. as a positive place to place their money.

Nothing happens until something gets built. That applies to ships, mines, plants and malls.

Without skilled construction workers, plant operators, miners and retail workers will have nowhere to earn a paycheque.

Thomas Freidman said that we have been through the Iron Age, the Industrial Age, the Information Age and are now in the Age of Talent. He also said that countries that ease the inflow of talent will have an advantage.

Immigration in a global economy with a mobile global workforce is a central consideration for countries and province as they attempt to revive and maintain economies.

International recruitment does not preclude home grown talent and does not shut the door on B.C.’s unemployed. In fact, immigration strengthens our ability to create jobs in B.C .and augments the B.C. government recent realignment of funding to support trades training.

While the main driver for all this is demographics, we shouldn’t let parochial concerns and special interests overshadow the need for forward planning and action.

It will take serious, informed people to resolve B.C.’s skill shortage. We do need to start today.

Manley McLachlan is the president and CEO of the B.C. Construction Association. Manley is also a member of the Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

last update:Oct 3, 2014

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