Lack of skilled workers threatens growth in the north

Shortage calls for government intervention, innovation

Concern is mounting in the construction sector that a shortage of skilled workers could impact affect the growth in the north with a number of large construction projects being announced.

The impending construction boom associated with LNG Canada’s facility in Kitimat and the Coastal GasLink pipeline, combined with other projects being announced for the north, will further worsen the existing shortage of skilled workers in the region.

Independent Contractors and Businesses Association’s (ICBA) president Chris Gardner said construction in B.C. now employs nearly 250,000 people and contributes almost 9 per cent of the provincial GDP.

“The state of construction in B.C. is strong with just over half our companies expecting more work in 2019 than the year before. The industry is firing on all cylinders and then some,” said Gardner.

He said a survey conducted by the ICBA found that in northern B.C. 64 per cent of contractors expect more work in 2019 than last year, with 68 per cent of contractors saying they are already short of workers, especially carpenters, labourers and welders.

“Worker shortages are not a problem unique to construction – retail, food, tourism and many other industries are experiencing similar things as the B.C. workforce ages,” said Gardner.

“This demographic cliff is partly why construction continues to be an exciting and appealing career for a quarter million British Columbians – there is plenty of work, and good workers are being well-paid, well-trained and well-rewarded.”

He said contractors surveyed said they expect to give their workers a 4.8 per cent increase, with another 5.3 per cent increase in 2020 – more than double the rate of inflation.

Terrace-based Technicon Industries owner/manager Andrew Contumelias said while demand for Techicon’s services has increased year-over-year, there’s been a spike in the last 12 months.

“The scarcity of artisans for Technicon and the building industry, in general, continues to be an issue, and the problem will only be compounded as the demand for tradesman rises throughout the area,” said Contumelias.

“Contractors will be facing challenges with meeting deadlines and taking on certain projects. Hiring skilled tradesman will become more competitive as these large projects ramp up.”

He said the total 10 per cent increase in salaries over two years is sustainable as long as the region continues to experience growth and development.

“If the growth is not sustainable then it might be difficult to maintain high salary positions during periods of less activity,” he added.

He said while the provincial and federal governments had taken steps to address the shortage of skilled workers over the last few years, it takes close to a decade for a tradesman to master their trade.

”Like many other industries, the further away from the major centres the smaller the pool to draw from. Incentives to encourage development in the north and relocation to these areas would also be beneficial in feeding skilled labour pools,” said Contumelias.

He said Technicon had taken steps within the company to recruit and retain skilled workers, placing a lot of attention on apprenticeships.

“The apprenticeship program is a key part of our business’ growth and important for all of our apprentices. Having a company that offers a well-rounded apprenticeship where our apprentices are able to finish their ticket with a complete understanding of their trade is important.

The company has either been nominated for or received a few awards through Small Business B.C., including the People’s Choice Award and Best Apprenticeship Training award.

“We strive to develop a supportive culture where people want to be a part this team throughout and beyond completion of their apprenticeship program. This allows our company to retain staff that want to be a skilled tradesman.”

Currently, 30 of Technicon’s staff are enrolled in the apprenticeship program.

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