A new provincial fund is aimed at rebuilding the workforce and reputation of B.C.’s construction industry.
“Sadly, the construction industry is not a top career choice for young people,” René Ragetli, director of project operations at the Construction Foundation of British Columbia, said Wednesday (Oct. 11). “We all need to work collectively to change that. A healthy construction workforce can transform social and economic well-being for all (of) B.C. and we need our next generation on board and inspired to build a better future for all of us.”
Construction Foundation of British Columbia is a registered charity that offers grants and bursaries as part of a larger agenda to draw more young people into the industry.
Ragetli, who says he spends about 80 per cent of his time in the K-to-12 system, made these comments as Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson announced the Workplace Innovation Fund. Robinson framed it as part and parcel of her government’s plans to build more homes.
“We also know — and I have heard that from the construction sector over and over again, that workforce recruitment and retention challenges have gotten more challenging over the last number of years,” she said. “So to deliver more homes for people, the construction sector has to succeed,” she added.
The fund is part of a government education push worth $480 million over three years. It offers up to $5 million for individual projects in any of five areas: the adoption of technologies and steps to improve productivity; the improvement of workplace cultures and hiring practices to attract and retain workers including workers from under-represented and diverse groups; the development of innovative training practices; the raising of the prestige and awareness of the construction industry and its careers; and the streamlining of career paths for newcomers.
Ragetli welcomed the fund, adding that it will help in making the industry more attractive. He said a “whole host of issues” make the industry appear “alien” to most high school students. Those issues include “perceptions around safety” in the industry, a “lack of awareness of training opportunities” and a “large lack of awareness around pay” and advancement.
Other factors come into play as well, he added.
“The audience is not (just) students, but it’s very much educators, teachers, (whose) perceptions of what workplaces are, are sometimes 40 years out of date,” Ragetli said, adding that parents also need to be reached. “There (are) lots of different ways of letting them know that this is a 21st century industry.”
It is also an industry that is short of workers. While it employs some 216,000 individuals, provincial figures peg the number of expected job vacancies at just under 73,000 for the period until 2032.
Brynn Bourke is the executive director of BC Building Trades, which represents about 40,000 unionized construction workers. She said her industry may be busier than ever, but is grappling with a skilled trade shortage that needs to be addressed.
“We hope that this fund can help expand our training offerings to address the shortage and to provide more opportunities for people entering the trade,” Bourke said. She added that that the recruitment focus lies on “improving equity, diversity and inclusion so that more women, more Indigenous people and more underrepresented groups can find their opportunity in a trade.”
In July 2023, the industry lost 20,000 jobs in the face of rising interest rates and other factors with the overall numbers pointing downward since 2022. This said, the industry added almost 13,000 jobs in September.
Bourke warns against reading too much into those figures.
While some major marque projects like Site C and LNG Canada may be winding down, B.C. is currently experiencing “historic government investment in infrastructure,” she said.
“We are seeing more hospitals, we are seeing more schools, we are seeing a massive investment in housing,” she said. “We will need every worker that we have right now and we are going to need to need them for the next 10 years…so the future is very bright for construction.”