Condominium construction in Greater Victoria, one of the urban areas where builders are looking for more carpenters, concrete finishers and other skilled trades. (Black Press files)

Skilled worker shortage hangs over B.C. industrial growth

Construction, forest industry struggle to hold workforce

The B.C. government’s agenda for 2019 touts its strategies for generating more construction, sawmill and natural gas industry jobs, but employers are wondering where the skilled workers are going to come from.

After this week’s throne speech to start the legislature session, Premier John Horgan acknowledged that a skills shortage is the most common issue he hears about in meetings with employers. The speech repeats the NDP government’s commitment to more skills training, the details of which will be seen in Finance Minister Carole James’ next budget on Feb. 19.

“Talking to employers, I hear over and over again, the biggest challenge they have is recruiting and retaining skilled workers, or recruiting and retaining any workers that they can provide training for,” Horgan said.

Housing and other construction have been booming in urban B.C., and more growth is expected this year, according to the Independent Contractors and Business Association’s 2019 wage and benefits survey, released Wednesday in Vancouver.

RELATED: Union construction doesn’t raise costs, B.C. Building Trades says

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ICBA president Chris Gardner says more than half of companies surveyed expect to grow by 24 per cent on average this year. But in skilled trades such as carpenters, sheet metal workers, sprinkler fitters and concrete finishers, nearly 80 per cent of companies say they can’t hire enough people.

“Skills shortages have eased a little, particularly in the North, but with nearly 60 per cent of companies saying they are turning down work, the pressure remains acute,” Gardner said.

The survey included 1,000 companies in November 2018. It finds that wage growth is accelerating, with four per cent annual increases expected to reach 5.3 per cent in 2020, and average wages above $30 an hour.

The ICBA is taking court action against the NDP government’s new “community benefits agreement” for public construction, which restricts highway and bridge work to 19 selected trade unions, mostly headquartered in the U.S. Gardner said 85 per cent of companies in B.C. are shut out of taxpayer-funded work.


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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