A critical labour shortage is worsening across B.C., with most contractors saying they can’t find enough qualified workers
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.
Workers toil at a construction site in downtown Vancouver Wednesday. Contractors say B.C. faces a critical shortage of qualified workers.
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.