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Collaboration key to meet Ontario labour demand

Collaboration will be the key to filling Ontario's demand in specialized construction trades driven by projects in Northern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) from 2013 to 2021, say industry leaders.

The industry will have to come together and all levels of government will have to look at different options in terms of how we address not only the skills shortages for upcoming projects, but looking forward into the next 15, 20 years, said Ashley De Souza, vice-president policy and government relations for the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA).

How do we address some of the shortages that will come systemically as baby boomers do age out and retire?

The Construction Looking Forward, Ontario 2013“2021 forecast released by the former Construction Sector Council, now BuildForce Canada, say the Ontario construction industry will need to recruit about 40,000 workers from outside the province.

The forecast estimates the province's labour force will increase by 20,000 workers across the forecast period. Retirements will take about 75,000 workers out of the market, though 55,000 first-time new entrants are estimated to enter construction during this same period.

The challenge will be moving specialized and experienced trades to the big projects at the right time.

Greater Toronto Area (GTA) labour requirements are driven largely by the nuclear power plant refurbishment, transmission, other utilities work and transportation projects. Labour requirements exceed local supply by 2016 and most of the specialized trades needed for the big engineering projects must be recruited from outside the GTA by 2017. The region will see potential recruiting challenges from 2014 to 2019 for all trades and occupations in non-residential work.

Northern Ontario's resource development boom will alter the regional construction workforce over the long run, says the forecast. BuildForce Canada tracks 30 major mining and infrastructure development projects in the region, each valued at more than $100 million. Seven are winding down as the scenario starts, 11 are scheduled to end in 2013 and 19 are underway and run to 2015 and later. This results in a buildup in the workforce from 2012 to 2014 and then a decline. Demands drive employment up by more than 65 per cent for a long list of trades and occupations.

Patrick Dillon, business manager/secretary treasurer of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, pointed out that the forecast ds not study the capacity of training that could take place within non-traditional construction labour groups like aboriginals, women and youth.

There are lots of people in northern Ontario, and in particularly the fastest growing group within our society, the aboriginal group, which opens up a real opportunity to help them get into the trades, he said.

Central Ontario labour markets remain more or less balanced, with a shallow expansion.

There is little change in construction employment in Eastern Ontario with the only consistent course of rising demand in the commercial building sector.

Southwestern Ontario will undergo a stop-go-stop pattern, including highway work, the Windsor Bridge, and utility projects, which creates some volatility for key trades and occupations.

Dillon said the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) could help recruit youth to the trades.

One of the components of having a college is to have parents and guidance councilors clearly get on the side of promoting trades training as a first choice, viable career opportunity for Ontario's youth, he said.

That would be a big shift. Right now the age of an apprentice starting in the province of Ontario is 27. It should be 19.

Construction Design Alliance of Ontario chair Clive Thurston said Ontario may have too many rules in its structured workforce that make it difficult for the industry to respond to labour force demand the way it needs to.

He said many groups are opposed to OCOT because it will not improve mobility or help people get into the industry.

It will tighten controls. It will put people in silos. The world is moving where you need people who can multi task. We have to have a workforce that is able to be flexible, mobile and do a lot of different things.

Though the focus is usually on the labour shortage in the skilled trades, Thurston pointed out that there has been a significant gap on the professional side for the last decade.

[Students] are not getting chances in the industry because there is no apprentice program for them. There's nothing being developed to help employers hire these young people and give them the chance they need to get the experience they need.

With tight labour constraints present in forecasts across the country, the industry will have to be innovative in its recruitment.

Whether it's bringing in young apprentices and young workers into the field, bringing in foreign trained workers or having existing workforce stay longer as well, we need a multi-pronged approach, said De Souza.

Follow Kelly Lapointe on Twitter @DCNKelly.

Article taken from: http://www.dcnonl.com