BY ANDRE WIDJAJA - With about 235,000 workers in the construction industry on the way out over the next decade, the government, as well as the industry are looking to young people to fill an anticipated skilled labour shortage.
But the challenge, said the federal Minister of Labour and Minister of the Status of Women, Kellie Leitch, is educating young people on the opportunities of working in the skilled trades.
“Young Canadians need to realize that becoming someone who’s a welder can have a great and prosperous life,” she said, as part of a panelist at Cardus’ Canada’s New Industrial Revolution conference in Toronto.
“It needs to be a dinner table conversation so that young Canadians go to college and not university.”
Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney, echoed the notion that higher academic learning doesn’t necessarily equate to better jobs.
“I think it’s important that young people know that becoming a ticketed journeyman, a plumber or electrician is far more likely to generate them a better lifetime income than going to university and getting a B.A. in political science,” he said during his speech.
“The reality is, we don’t really have shop classes left in our high schools and we’ve sent all sorts of signals to young people that they can’t realize their potential if they end up working with their hands rather than getting an academic degree.”
>British Columbia Construction Association president Manley McLachlan believes the stigma of going to college needs to be stripped away by blurring the lines between college and university.
“I kind of reject the notion that there’s high education and there’s skills training,” he said.
“When you have a fourth-year arts student that has come to the conclusion that they’re going in the wrong direction, why wouldn’t we provide them with an opportunity to swing over into the trades and take some of that education with them.”
The industry could also turn to the female demographic, which is one of the country’s largest, untapped resources, said Leitch.
With many well-educated women in the country, women represent less than 15 per cent of the construction industry’s workforce.
Leitch said that just like the challenge with young people, there is a lack of communication and education on the benefits of working in the skilled trades.
“This is the lifeblood of the Canadian economy and we need to do more to ensure these women understand that there’s a huge opportunity for them by entering into these roles because they’ll have a great quality of life,” she said.
She also noted that with Alberta oilsands company, Syncrude Canada, 77 per cent of their drivers are women.
“They take better care of the equipment. When you’re buying $50,000 tires, it’s pretty important they last. And they show up to work on time.”
The government and industry have also looked at mobility as a possible solution, but panelists agreed that it is only a partial remedy.
They’ve found it difficult to convince people living in larger urban centres, to pack up and leave to remote areas for work, despite a higher salary waiting for them.
For many of the conference speakers, they agreed a shift in culture needs to happen.
“It is about saying to young Canadian and older ones — take a risk because you’re going to benefit from it, you’re going to get great experience and have a fabulous quality of life,” added Leitch.
Buildforce executive director Rosemary Sparks also put the responsibility on companies to make for positive work and living experiences for people who end up leaving their homes.
In Fort McMurray, Alta., which is home to Canada’s second largest population of Newfoundlanders, they’ve created clubs and organizations to build a sense of community.
Sparks also emphasized the importance of marketing construction to young people.
She said young people don’t want it to be pushed on them, rather, they should be provided with relevant information about working in the industry and then allowed to have the discussions among themselves.
She recommends exposing more young people to real jobsites.
This way, they will have something tangible to relate to.
“Before that, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s not real before they get on the site,” she said.
“We have to get them in touch with construction in a very physical way.”
Leitch suggested three pieces of advice to get people into the trades.
She said to tell them how much money they’re going to make, speak with them through social media and change the perception of working in the skilled trades to a worthy career choice.