Canada’s construction labour shortage is no secret. Neither is it anything new. Well before the pandemic, employers across the industry found it difficult to fill their ranks in light of increased activity, industry misconceptions, and international competition for talent.

These challenges have not gone away. Now, however, the task of recruiting new construction talent has taken on new dimensions.

“The labour shortage has always been a hot topic in our industry, but the problem has been accelerated due to the pandemic,” says Marco Ferrazzo, Manager with Artistic Skylights. “The manufacturing sector is no exception, either. With a lack of applicants and qualified personnel, it is harder and harder to find good working people.”

Canada’s labour crunch

Evidence of Canada’s labour crunch is in the numbers. According to a 2021 report from Statistics Canada, 4.1 per cent of jobs in the country (an estimated 632,700 positions) went unfilled in March 2021, which is roughly 100 basis points higher than pre-pandemic levels. At last count, the construction industry’s vacancy rate alone sits at 5.8 per cent, or 58,300 jobs, second only to the hospitality sector, which is hurting from a 7.4 per cent vacancy rate.

Many factors are widening the skilled talent gap. Prior to the pandemic, the industry faced the upward challenge of promoting the trades as a viable path compared to tech, knowledge, or other non-trade careers.

“A career in construction has not been a first choice for many people,” Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association told the Financial Post. “There has been a bias toward people going to university.”

Competition for construction talent

Heightened competition for talent has also been a factor. Employers from the US and overseas have long fought over individuals to fill the positions vacated by retiring workforces, and that trend is likely to continue as economies re-open.

Of course, the pandemic played its own role in keeping potential recruits away from the trades. In addition to spurring anxieties about the health risks of working within “hands-on” fields, the public health crisis motivated many skilled individuals to switch fields after losing their jobs or being compelled to pursue other lines of work.

All told, the construction labour challenge is not the result of any one factor. Instead, it is a long-running issue magnified by demographic trends and ever-shifting pandemic conditions.

Still, as with any challenge in the construction industry, the talent crunch poses an opportunity for employers to bolster their recruitment and retention strategies.

“Finding skilled people is tough, which is why it’s important to do everything we can to retain the talent we have and make our part of the industry as attractive as possible for potential recruits,” says Ferrazzo.

Employee value proposition

The talent shortage has challenged employers to take a fresh look at their employee value proposition. That includes instilling the extra incentives, supports, and work-life balances that appeal to today’s talent.

And then, the solution to Canada’s labour deficit may also lie at its borders.

“While we forecast growth to slow over the later years of our forecast period, we nonetheless expect that the industry will be challenged to recruit more than 309,000 new workers to replace retirees and keep pace with demand,” said Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada in a recent report. “The construction industry may … leverage new Canadians over the coming decade to meet anticipated labour market requirements.”

Pathway to permanent residency

Recognizing this, the Canadian federal government recently announced a new pathway to permanent residency policy that will help 90,000 foreign nationals in Canada working under temporary statuses to become permanent.

“Since COVID-19 first arrived on our shores, we have charted a course guided by one north star — that immigration is key to Canada’s short-term economic recovery and long-term prosperity,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino during the April 14 announcement. “Fundamentally, we know that by attracting and retaining the best and the brightest … we will add more jobs, growth, and diversity to our economy.”

Finding the right people for the job is no easy task. The good news is that efforts are being made to bring new recruits to the field while organizations like Artistic Skylights take steps to become an employer of choice.

“It takes work finding and keeping the right people, and in our business, that work pays off in teams that can give us the competitive edge,” adds Ferrazzo.


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