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Last Word: Building a Better Canada by Supporting a Diverse and Tech-Savvy Workforce

Mary Van Buren

Van Buren

Construction is one of the largest economic sectors in Canada, driven in part by the global demand for natural resources and the urgent need to modernize Canada’s infrastructure.

The industry employs close to 1.5 million people and generates about $140 billion to the economy annually, accounting for 7 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). Construction, in many ways, is the backbone of the Canadian economy.

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As the national voice of the construction industry, the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), representing more than 20,000 member firms drawn from 63 local and provincial integrated partner, is asking the federal government to invest in programs that will keep this sector healthy and competitive.

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Canada needs a large and steady supply of qualified labour, but the industry is facing a serious workforce shortage with 22 per cent of workers set to retire over the next decade.

The BuildForce Canada research organization recently reported that 261,000 construction workers are expected to retire within the next decade, exceeding the number of new recruits of 221,300 by nearly 40,000. The 4 per cent increase in labour demands means that the construction industry will need to hire about 80,000 men and women.

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Attracting new talent isn’t optional. The need for new workers who are capable, tech-savvy and innovative cannot be overstated yet the construction industry is not seen as an employer of choice, open to all. It is imperative that a strategy be developed aimed at recruiting, retaining and re-training a diverse, skilled and tech-savvy workforce. Research is needed into perceptions of what a career in construction means for youth, Indigenous groups, women, new Canadians and other under-represented groups.

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CCA has been doing its part by developing a national strategy with measurable impact to re-position the image of the industry and attract and retain the workforce of tomorrow. The strategy was guided by an advisory working group with expertise in recruitment, retention and research of under-represented segments such as women, youth and Indigenous or new Canadians.

Individual employers and construction associations have also been working with schools and institutions to spark interest in construction as a viable career opportunity.

To amplify these individual efforts, CCA has requested funding from the federal government in its Student Work-Integrated Learning Program (SWILP) application to place students from across Canada in construction-related work terms, gaining valuable experience and exposing them to exciting career opportunities. The government has an opportunity to work with industry in this area rather than create legislation, such as community benefits requirements.

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The numerous charitable initiatives undertaken by our members in their local communities and CCA’s long-term implementation of a diversity strategy is a signal of our commitment to community benefits without the need for a formal legislative lens. Specific legislation or regulations have the potential to threaten the fair and competitive bidding process on federal government contracts and tenders.

CCA believes passionately in the sustainability and vitality of Canada’s construction industry and the industry’s pivotal role in building a better Canada. The industry not only provides jobs, but lifelong careers, injects socioeconomic opportunities and life into a community, and creates infrastructure critical to keeping the country moving forward.

The world is changing, and the industry is changing with it. We are embracing these new challenges and we need to work together in order to successfully compete in the war for talent.

Mary Van Buren is president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA).