WORK­ERS WANTED

A crit­i­cal labour short­age is wors­en­ing across B.C., with most con­trac­tors say­ing they can’t find enough qual­i­fied work­ers

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SAN LAZARUK

A crit­i­cal labour short­age in B.C.’s con­struc­tion in­dus­try is ex­pected to hit 90 per cent of com­pa­nies in sev­eral trades and 75 per cent of com­pa­nies across the prov­ince are re­port­ing they can’t find enough qual­i­fied work­ers.

That’s up from 60 per cent of com­pa­nies who com­plained a year ago of a short­age of qual­i­fied work­ers, a sur­vey the CEO of the In­de­pen­dent Con­trac­tors and Busi­nesses As­so­ci­a­tion re­leased on Wed­nes­day found.

The short­ages are crit­i­cal, with 100 per cent of glazier com­pa­nies re­ported staff short­ages in the sur­vey, CEO Chris Gard­ner told a break­fast meet­ing to kick off the Buildex trades expo. More than half of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s mem­bers are ex­pect­ing more work this year and that will likely mean an even tighter labour mar­ket.

Chris Boshard, owner of Com­bined Paint­ing, a $5-mil­lion com­mer­cial paint­ing firm based in Van­cou­ver with up to 40 em­ploy­ees, fears he will have to turn down jobs be­cause he can’t find qual­i­fied painters — just as he’s had to in the past.

He has lost work­ers to re­tire­ment and burnout, cit­ing one case where a staffer quit the job and moved to Mis­sion af­ter work­ing three years straight.

“I asked him why he didn’t take a va­ca­tion and he said he couldn’t af­ford to,” said Boshard.

He also spec­u­lated that trades aren’t con­sid­ered a ca­reer choice among some seg­ments of B.C.’s pop­u­la­tion.

“There are not a lot of par­ents want­ing their kids to get into the trades,” said Boshard. “They want them to be ac­coun­tants.”

He lis­tened to the work­shop fa­cil­i­ta­tors talk­ing about com­pa­nies sug­gest­ing of­fer­ing up to “thou­sands of dol­lars” in bonuses to any em­ployee who brings in a new worker, hold­ing work par­ties with pizza, drinks and mu­sic to en­cour­age work­ers to send out want ads on their per­sonal so­cial me­dia sites, flood­ing on­line job sites such as Craigslist, Ki­jiji and In­deed.com with jobs wanted ads and re­cruit­ing from other prov­inces, es­pe­cially post-oil boom Al­berta.

“Bring­ing in guys from Al­berta, they’re not go­ing to want to give up their homes that cost $250,000 to $300,000 and move here where the traf­fic’s ter­ri­ble,” said Boshard. “They come here and say, this is crazy, I can’t find a place to live,” he said. “And you feel re­spon­si­ble.”

He said his in­dus­try, along with the other fin­ish­ing trades such as dry­wall and tiling, have a tough time at­tract­ing young peo­ple from “sex­ier” trades such as plumb­ing and elec­tri­cal.

The ICBA sur­vey found the trades with the most crit­i­cal short­ages, ac­cord­ing to per­cent­age of em­ploy­ers who can­not find enough work­ers, were glaziers at 100 per cent, fol­lowed by pip­efit­ters, 93 per cent, sheet metal work­ers, 91 per cent, and elec­tri­cians and plumbers, both with 89 per cent.

By re­gion, the great­est per­cent­age of com­pa­nies fear­ing short­ages were in the In­te­rior, 82 per cent, North­ern B.C., 80 per cent, Van­cou­ver Is­land, 76 per cent, and Metro Van­cou­ver/Whistler, 74 per cent.

Car­pen­ters were among the top three in short sup­ply in all re­gions, labour­ers in three, framers in two and truck driv­ers, dry­wallers and plumbers in one re­gion.

All re­spon­dents fore­saw wage in­creases in 2018 over 2017, by an av­er­age of 5.1 per cent, to $27 an hour, the ICBA said.

Irene Lanzinger, pres­i­dent of the B.C. Fed­er­a­tion of Labour, said the prov­ince needs to “fun­da­men­tally re­vamp” B.C.’s trades train­ing sys­tem to meet the de­mand.

But “prac­ti­cal short term” so­lu­tions are more train­ing seats, more work ex­pe­ri­ence op­por­tu­ni­ties so ap­pren­tices can com­plete their train­ing and a re­turn to com­pul­sory cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for all trades, she said in a state­ment.

The govern­ment is in­creas­ing the num­ber of ap­pren­tices and help­ing them com­plete train­ing, Bruce Ral­ston, min­is­ter of jobs, trade and tech­nol­ogy, said in a state­ment.

And Ral­ston said the govern­ment is work­ing with in­dus­try and em­ploy­ers to de­ter­mine an ap­pren­tice­ship ra­tio for govern­ment con­struc­tion projects.

Last Au­gust, B.C. an­nounced $1.79 mil­lion for 562 ad­di­tional trades seats to meet mar­ket de­mand and it pro­vides $97 mil­lion a year to sup­port trades train­ing, he said.

NICK PROCAYLO/PNG

Work­ers toil at a con­struc­tion site in down­town Van­cou­ver Wed­nes­day. Con­trac­tors say B.C. faces a crit­i­cal short­age of qual­i­fied work­ers.

SU­SAN LAZARUK/PNG

Chris Boshard, who owns Com­bined Paint­ing, says he has to turn down jobs every year be­cause of a lack of qual­i­fied painters. For glazier com­pa­nies it’s even worse, with a sur­vey find­ing 100 per cent of em­ploy­ers had trou­ble find­ing enough qual­i­fied staff.

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