Fast-tracking the workforce for a low-carbon Canada
By Juliana Dutkay, Workforce 2030 Coalition Lead
A robust workforce is key to carbon reduction targets in the building sector. Financing, supply chains and scaling proven and available technologies are also critical, but especially for the construction industry, workforce is top of mind both in terms of numbers and skills.
With a 'retirement bubble' accounting for almost quarter of the construction labour force, the industry needs to look at a full spectrum of solutions from aggressive recruitment on the domestic side, to workforce mobility and immigration policy to bring in permanent skilled workers, said Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada.
“You cannot flip a switch and suddenly add more people,” said Ferreira. “It takes about four years to train apprentices and develop skills. The industry needs time to adjust to that.”
Despite the pandemic, growth in the building sector remains strong. Demand for labour remains especially high in British Columbia and Ontario. At Ellis Don, construction projects are in full swing and backlog continues to grow.
“We are seeing a significant focus on sustainability, technology and smart buildings,” said Clare Ashbee, vice president of Sustainable Buildings at Ellis Don. “It is increasing at an exponential rate, while we all experience a constrained construction labour market.”
With significant investment in modular construction, Ellis Don is feeling the labour crunch. “We need to hire 100 people in our modular building division by December. That is a huge amount of people,” said Ashbee. “We need engineers knowledgeable in building envelope and materials.”
Training for low-carbon
While baseline skills for low-carbon building are not dramatically different from conventional buildings, some upskilling is required. Strong communication and collaboration across disciplines, an integrated design-build approach, and strong quality assurance skills are also necessary to achieve carbon reduction and energy performance.
Building operation and facilities management are also crucial, as people need to be trained so the systems and new technologies in a low-carbon building reach optimal performance.
To ensure that the construction workforce is ready for more low-carbon buildings, the sector needs to pivot toward life-long learning and adaptability, and nurture social and emotional skills, according to Pedro Barata, executive director of Future Skills Centre.
Economic recovery and job creation are a priority for all levels of government. Infrastructure investments are a staple of stimulus and skills development will need to be part of the package. While Canada is a world leader when it comes to education, it is not yet equipped for the emerging low-carbon economy.
Equity and Inclusion
Construction is a huge sector of the economy with roughly one in 13 Canadians working in construction, according to Buildforce research. It can provide good, well-paying jobs. But who has access to them?
The workforce's growth is as important as upskilling, and attention is being paid to ensure that diversity and inclusion are part of the growth strategy. “The construction industry must address underrepresented groups such as women, racialized people, youth and people with disabilities,” said Jeff Ranson, regional director CaGBC’s Greater Toronto Chapter. “This is critical to the sector’s future growth and to address the social inequality that has only been deepened by the pandemic.”
“The industry needs to set benchmarks, targets and KPIs to make meaningful progress on diversifying the construction workforce, just as it does to advance any other business priority,” said Barata.