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It was predicted years ago and it’s now taking place: a skilled trade worker shortage, as Baby Boomers continue to retire. According to data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) there were 399,000 vacant jobs in Canada in the fourth quarter of 2017, an increase of 38,000 vacancies in just three months.

Construction vacancies were in the second highest category, reported at 3.7%. It’s not because the economy is weak. On the contrary, overall unemployment is the lowest it has been for more than 40 years. The Pre-Apprenticeship Training Institute reports that HVAC technician and plumber are two of its top five positions in crisis. 

HRAI03102018cScott Papp, HRAI Manager Membership & Divisional Programs, says the squeeze is on, and that HRAI Careers Committee has been meeting regularly during the past year, planning new public awareness initiatives and participation in career shows. Our career site at hvacrcareers.ca already contains well-developed sections for students, educators, parents and industry; and in the coming months, extensive updates to its online package will be implemented.

Buildforce Canada, one of the organizations working with HRAI, says 20% of our industry will retire in the next 10 years. At its peak, the shortage could reach nearly 300,000 just in construction.

To address this, employers will have to commit to sustained efforts to recruit and retain people, especially from four main groups,” says 

Bill Ferreira, Executive Director for BuildForce Canada. “I’m talking about young people, women, immigrants and indigenous people. Our efforts have to remain at a high level. We have to try to avoid allowing our commitment to go through peaks and valleys, perhaps reflecting the ups and downs of the industry. Retention, in particular will require consistent effort.

His organization develops workforce research and data and has developed a broad portfolio of resources to support the efforts of construction firms in sourcing talent and retaining employees. Their excellent web site can be found at buildforce.ca

“Recruiting from each of these groups implies significant challenges, and there is no silver bullet that suddenly makes it easy. For students there is a persistent perception among parents, guidance counsellors and others in society that university is a better choice than a career in the trades. It reflects a lack of awareness and reliance on outmoded stereotypes. In general, the public doesn’t realize that construction is very technologically sophisticated, innovative, challenging, rewarding, pays well, and is a stable, growing industry.”

He explains that with immigrants there are challenges with credentials and sometimes with language. This may be different than the Canadian domestic population, but employers recognize that there are opportunities and obstacles with all types of employees. Settlement service organizations in urban centers assist newcomers, while helping connect talented, motivated people with employers.

Women and indigenous people already make up a significant portion of the construction industry, but there are more opportunities than ever before to expand this contingent further.

Sometimes employers need to recognize that to attract and retain people, the work environment should be comfortable, inclusive, free of unwelcome behaviour, and work arrangements may need to be designed more flexibly.

Some indigenous people may be travelling long distances to work. Some women may have difficulty committing to long workdays. Lifestyle oriented Millennials may not want to move to a different location for their career. Older people might be able to make a valuable contribution for many years, with reduced hours, or shorter workweeks. In many of these cases it might require a change from business as usual. “And it’s not business as usual,” says Ferriera. “It’s a new world.”

HRAI03102018dBuildForce is releasing three new tools this fall that will support the recruitment and retention efforts of HVACR industry employers.

One is an online course for supervisors to help them adapt to new realities and create better work environments, by creating an atmosphere that discourages and corrects racism or discrimination. “If you want to attract any of the key groups you have to recognize that they are less tolerant of uncomfortable workplace culture,” says Ferriera.

Another tool will allow employers to conduct a self-assessment and identify gaps that exist in their organization that might be limiting their ability to recruit and retain good people. “Some companies don’t know what they don’t know, whether it be legal requirements, training opportunities or what have you,” he says.

The third tool will be a policy framework that may be particularly useful for smaller organizations. They will be able to borrow material from it, to create policies and procedures that support a safe and comfortable work environment, free of discrimination or racism.

A recent story in the Daily Commercial News quoted Cristina Selva, Carpenters Local 27 Training Centre Executive Director as saying:

“Remember all those demographic studies we did 20 years ago about massive retirements? It’s happening… There’s no pool of candidates waiting, it’s just constant recruitment.” The good news is that the efforts of the industry are having an effect. According to Selva, “About 40% are apprentices, and that’s up from 17% just a couple of years ago.”

For more information on HRAI’s career initiatives, contact Scott Papp at spapp@hrai.ca or call 1-800-267-2331 ext. 233.