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Building skilled trades career awareness

Jul 8, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

It’s not a new story – the headlines for the last few years have been shouting from the rooftops about the shortage of skilled trades workers and how it will affect Canadian businesses. According to Employment and Social Development Canada – about 700,000 of the four million Canadians who currently work in the trades are set to retire by the end of the decade. It leaves us wondering who, exactly, is going to fill the gap?

And while that pinch is being felt across the skilled trade industry, construction is particularly vulnerable. There’s no shortage of initiatives to help address this challenge – trade programs and funding backed by industry and government, sponsoring new Canadians to fill gaps and other upskilling initiatives. And it’s working, to some extent – helping to build a pipeline of diverse talent and encouraging a whole new generation of skilled workers to the construction trades. But is it enough? To really move the needle, we need a multi-faceted approach. It starts with a fresh perspective of what a career in the skilled trades looks like.

We have a visibility issue

The skilled trades career path has evolved significantly even over the last 10 years, yet to many the industry is still perceived as second-rate. We can look to a culture which still values university education over working with one’s hands. Knowledge over skills. Outdated terms like “blue-collar” are still being used to describe an industry with high paying salaries. Construction isn’t traditionally encouraged as a career path for kids. But we are starting to see more grassroots initiatives like high school co-op programs or college outreach making a big difference in reaching young people.

The reality is, construction and many other skilled trades careers offer competitive salaries, benefits, and flexible hours, not to mention the range of career opportunities, mentorship and training available. Think about all the jobs needed to keep a construction site moving that don’t involve hard labour. There’s the mechanics needed to fix equipment, electricians working on new batteries, machine operators, and the drivers that keep things moving.

Then there’s niche industries like equipment rental. Many people are unaware of the opportunities in equipment rental, despite its stable and recession-resistant nature and anticipated growth. The Canadian Rental Association projects the rental industry will reach $7.5 billion by 2027, with an expected growth at a rate of 3.4-3.6% per year in the medium term, but most individuals have little awareness of the opportunities available.

 There is no one-size-fits-all approach to combating labour shortages

So how do you combat current labour shortages AND build a future pipeline of workers? You need to think about your short, medium and long-term strategies. Sponsoring or partnering with local organizations is one way to bring visibility to the non-traditional roles available in construction and the skilled trades industry in general. This could involve internships, apprenticeship programs, scholarships and other training to help to inspire the next generation of workers.

We are also starting to see an increase in workforce diversity. If we want to encourage the younger generation to pursue a career in construction, representation is important. People want to see workers who look like them and have experiences they can relate to. There are many organizations that are supporting this cause –  Jill of all Trades provides hands-on experience and an engaging learning environment to young women as a way to expose them to the trades. Others like Women in Steel Toes are actively working to support women already in the industry, providing a platform for women in construction to share their stories and experiences.

While we can expect Canadians to fill a portion of the skilled trade jobs of the future, many will go unfilled. We need world-class talent to build a stronger Canada for generations to come. This is why many companies are starting to recruit abroad. Hiring skilled foreign workers helps tap into a wider talent pool. In the past few years we have had great success bringing in skilled mechanics from all over the world, including New Zealand, Mexico, and Zambia. Many of these individuals are also open to moving to places where we struggle to fill positions, such as smaller towns.

It’s time to shake things up and think outside the box

There’s a high demand for skilled labour – and every company is looking for the same people. What are you doing to set your company apart? Is your organization the type of place people want to work? Opening up opportunities for everyone, whether they are just getting started in their career or seasoned veterans, will be key to addressing future labour challenges.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to contribute to something worthwhile. They want to do well, be compensated and treated fairly, and go home safely to their families. There is a big opportunity here to redefine the term “higher education” so young people can learn about the full range of options available to them. Governments across Canada are investing millions to encourage people to pursue careers in the construction industry and skilled trades. Meanwhile, we in the construction industry need to continue to speak up and show them what’s possible.

Remi Ryel is director of people and culture at Cooper Equipment Rentals. Debbie De Sousa is talent acquisition manager at Cooper Equipment Rentals.

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