Training new skilled trades workers must be a priority
While there has been a deceleration in new home sales, we must keep the pedal to the metal and continue to train skilled trades workers for the future.
The need for housing is not going away – in fact, it will only get worse in the long run if we don’t take serious action. We will need both compulsory and voluntary trades with specialized skill sets to do the work.
Ontario’s population recently surged past 15 million. Even with rising interest rates cooling the housing market, our rapid rate of growth and immigration of over 400,000 annually will fuel demand.
Inevitably, that means we must find a way to build more housing – and fast. To build more housing, of course, you need skilled trades.
According to BuildForce Canada, 50,000 construction workers in Ontario, or 20 per cent of the sector’s labour force, will likely retire over the coming decade. We must ensure there is a pipeline of replacements. Last year, the residential industry surged by 11 per cent, adding more than 22,000 jobs.
Canada-wide, the residential construction sector alone will need to recruit about 107,900 workers by 2031 to meet changing industry demands and replace retiring workers, BuildForce reports.
We must therefore protect current training programs and continue to recruit workers for the future. Governments need to keep funding – and expand programs to help young people learn the trades – through the peaks and valleys of our economy to ensure there is always an adequate supply.
We shouldn’t get fooled by a temporary slowdown. Demographics tell us the lack of housing is not going away. Natural population growth and immigration will augur more trouble unless we prepare.
Ontario’s population growth of just over 0.37 per cent in the first quarter of this year outpaced the national rate of 0.33 per cent for Canada. The country welcomed 113,699 immigrants in the first quarter of this year. Traditionally, most immigrants end up in Ontario and specifically in Toronto.
Those immigrants are going to need somewhere to live.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) recently reported that Canada will need an additional 5.8 million homes by the end of the decade – most of them in Ontario and B.C. The report notes the current pace of construction gets Ontario from around six million homes to 6.7 million by 2030.
As CMHC deputy chief economist Aled ab Iorwerth has pointed out, an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed to ramp up the housing stock.
This brings me back to my point.
Premier Doug Ford has pledged to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade. To build these homes, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that programs to train the next generation of trades are adequately funded.
The province has taken a number of positive steps to attract youth to the trades. Labour, Training, Immigration and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton has done a commendable job with the file and introduced some innovative training programs and initiatives aimed at recruiting more people from underrepresented communities.
For starters, in the last budget, about $114 million was set aside over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy, and $15.8 million was provided to the Skills Development Fund for 2022-23 to expand training facilities. Another $7 million was also committed over three years to enhance the Investing in Women’s Futures Program.
Meanwhile, a new agency called Skilled Trades Ontario was also created to simplify the entry system for apprentices and provide a single-access window for entry into the trades.
At the federal level, the budget bill passed recently will allow the immigration minister to designate certain jobs or skills as high priority and target those groups for permanent residency. This will allow the government to be more selective, picking people from certain categories like the trades.
But we still have a lot of work to do.
Presently, for example, just four per cent of skilled trades workers in the Ontario construction industry are women. Unfortunately, women and individuals from BIPOC communities are still underrepresented in the industry. RESCON is committed to raising awareness and keeping the momentum for change going.
Judging by statistics, there will be plenty of jobs available in the construction industry in future years. We must continue to drive training initiatives.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected]