Canada's Condominium Magazine

Construction industry needs workers, and the jobs pay well

More Canadians earn less than the average wage today than did so twenty years ago. The average wage is about $25 an hour, but the share of new jobs being created that pay less than that has been on the rise. Among Canadians in their prime working years, aged 25–54, more than half (53 per cent) earn less than that average wage, according to a new report from CIBC Capital Markets. Economist Benjamin Tal concludes that the quality of employment in Canada is on the decline, reflected in the “sluggish” growth of personal income. Most Canadian workers, a total of 6.3 million people, now fall within the wage range of 50 per cent to 100 per cent of the average wage.

Tal’s conclusion is supported by another study of Canadian employers, this one by recruitment specialists Hays Canada. Their annual survey of the job market in Canada finds that employers are optimistic heading into 2017, with a 19 per cent spike in confidence that the economy will improve. Businesses have reported gains over the past two years, the report finds, but they did not necessarily share the wealth with their employees. Their growth “did not translate into typical signs of advancement such as hiring and pay raises.”

There is one area of employment, however, that stands out for both its growth opportunities and its relatively high wages: construction. The Toronto Region Board of Trade released a report in October on the huge need for workers to build all the infrastructure that is planned in the Toronto area. The report, Building Infrastructure, Building Talent, says 147,000 jobs will need to be filled in construction between 2017 and 2031, 29,000 of those to replace workers soon to retire. As of February, 2015, according to Routes To. Employment, 40 per cent of construction workers today are between the ages of 45 and 64. Over the next four years, around 9,000 new workers will be needed per year. By 2028 the need will grow to 11,000 workers per year.

While employers have different perspectives on resolving the resource question, they are in agreement that employers should be more involved in the training and sourcing of talent. They express a genuine desire to collaborate with other stakeholders, such as unions, community organizations, education providers and government, to develop the skilled workforce our region needs to realize its infrastructure agenda. Moreover, there is broad interest among employers to work with a chamber of commerce or industry association to form an employer task force on talent.

Source: Building Infrastructure, Building Talent

Despite the need for skilled workers, employers say construction can be a tough sell to young people. Just 11 per cent of current construction workers are between the ages of 15 and 24. While there is a wide range of occupations in the construction industry, employers express frustration at the difficulty of finding suitable workers. Some believe that young people today simply are not interested in construction careers, a belief supported by low completion rates for construction trades training (46 per cent) and apprenticeship programs. Educators are also concerned about barriers that hinder construction careers, one of which is said to be “low social acceptance.” The biggest challenge, according to one industry insider, is getting young people interested in the trades.

One fact that could make a difference in attracting new workers is that many construction-related jobs are quite well paid. The Board of Trade report states that 70 per cent of the top fifty construction jobs pay more than double the minimum wage in Ontario, currently $11.40 an hour. The range of wages runs from a median of $15 an hour for retail sales to $56.73 for heavy equipment operators. Statistics Canada gives the average weekly earnings for the construction industry as a whole as $1,201.19 (September, 2016), putting it in ninth place of the twenty-two industries ranked.

Of the top fifty individual construction-related occupations, 62 per cent require a diploma, certificate or apprenticeship training, while 16 per cent require a degree and/or professional management expertise. Just 4 per cent require no formal education. Carpenters, plumbers and pipefitters may be the occupations that most people think of when they think of a construction site, but the Board of Trade wants to reinforce the point that many other occupations, such as engineers, accountants and office administrators, are needed as well.

Source: Building Infrastructure, Building Talent

With the increasing importance of green building, new specializations are emerging in the trades, including external insulation mechanics, solar and geothermal installers, and green roof specialists.

Unless potential employees are aware of the possibilities in these and other fields, however, interest will likely remain low. Employers should do more, says the Board of Trade, to communicate with students about job openings and requirements. Co-op and internship programs should be increased, as should academic partnerships. The report also recommends that employers join Magnet, a technology platform created by Ryerson University and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce that matches talent for employers.

As for policy makers, the government of Ontario should develop a “talent strategy” that supports the infrastructure agenda, beginning with a “sustained” advertising campaign that promotes the construction industry. It should also work with the Ministry of Education to ensure that secondary students and their parents are getting “robust” information on vocational education and training programs for the construction industry from guidance counsellors and teachers.

Top ten construction-related occupations by median wage per hour*:

  1. Heavy equipment operator: $56.73
  2. Crane operator: $46.15
  3. Telecommunications installers, repairers: $39.65
  4. Financial auditors, accountants: $34.13
  5. Concrete finishers: $33.39
  6. Bricklayers: $33.00
  7. Electricians: $32.52
  8. Accounting technicians, bookkeepers: $32.10
  9. Civil engineers and construction estimators: $32.00
  10. Floor covering installers: $31.25

* From Building Infrastructure, Building Talent.  A complete listing of all fifty construction occupations and the number of openings expected between 2017 and 2031 can be found here.


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