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Stefan Edwards, a framer for Anvil West Construction Ltd., cutting studs to height at a worksite on Main Street and E 41st Avenue.

B.C. construction sector urges companies to do more to solve labour shortages

Some blame this skilled worker shortage on “reactive” construction companies that do not provide internal advancement opportunities for their workers

By Cameron MacCuish , in City , on November 30, 2021

Some B.C. construction companies are looking internally for solutions to develop their rookie employees into skilled construction workers instead of relying on the steadily shrinking construction job market for experienced tradespeople.

Recently, B.C. construction demand has returned to pre-COVID levels, but there is still a relatively scarce number of skilled workers to service this demand. Some attribute a cause of this shortage to “reactive” construction companies that aren’t doing anything to provide training for their less-skilled workers. 

“Companies need to find candidates who are motivated and provide them with access to programs for advancement,” said Ron Rapp, CEO of the Homebuilders Association of Vancouver. He said that a solution to the lack of skilled labour is for companies to become more proactive to solve the shortage. 

The Vancouver Regional Construction Association also urged a proactive approach as a solution to the skilled-worker shortage.

“There should not be a labour shortage if there are proactive companies,” said Joe Vales, member-relations manager of the association. “The onus is on the construction companies to start being more proactive.”

Luke Creighton, the owner of Anvil West Construction Ltd., framing with his assistant.

Owners of B.C. construction companies say that they have adopted this proactive solution to the shortage.

Mackenzie Creighton, the owner of Aurora Custom Homes Ltd., said that his company has been spending extra time and money to develop the skills of his more amateur workers.

However, Creighton said, many construction companies in B.C. are unwilling to make the extra resources available to do the same.

Vales called these companies “reactive.”

He said that the issue with reactive companies is that they look primarily to the job market for skilled workers instead of promoting internal advancement and skill development within their own companies.

B.C. construction activity has recently bounced back to pre-COVID levels and has seen a record level of housing starts in 2021 following a 10-per-cent decrease in 2020. However, the total number of B.C. construction workers available to meet this rise in demand is currently much less than when the pandemic began. There are currently 218,600 construction workers in B.C., down from 246,600 workers documented at the end of 2019.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Chris Joy, a framer for Anvil West Construction Ltd., preparing to lift a wall plate at his 198 Ontario Place worksite.

Creighton said that B.C. construction companies are currently struggling to keep pace with this rapid shift in demand because of this shortage.

“Each month has been getting busier in the last five months,” said Creighton. “Everyone’s work calendars are bursting, and people cannot think of taking on more work.”

He believes that construction companies will soon begin to feel the pinch of this new rise in demand because of the lack of skilled workers available.

The shortage is reported as the most critical industry-wide dilemma facing the B.C. construction industry. An April 2021 survey from the British Columbia Construction Association revealed the skilled-labour shortage as the most significant issue currently facing B.C. construction companies.

The Vancouver Regional Construction Association reports that this shortage will only worsen in the coming decade, as an estimated 22 per cent of B.C.’s current construction workforce will retire by 2030.