This article originally appeared in Daily Commercial News.
By Phil Gillies
A new report prepared by Prism Economics and Analysis for the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) provides some insight into the state of the workforce in the province’s construction industry.
The report Demographics & Diversity: A Portrait of Ontario’s Unionized Construction Industry identifies some trends that must be of concern to everyone in the industry.
The Prism report clearly indicates that we are heading for a shortage of skilled tradespeople. I would contend that the construction unions are carrying more than their share of the effort to train new workers and bring them into the workforce.
The unionized construction sector funds over 70 training centres across the province, injecting $40 million into them every year. The trainees and graduates benefit the whole construction industry, including the non-unionized contractors who are not bearing the cost of training.
The skills shortfall is real, and worsening. Eighteen per cent of Ontario’s unionized construction workers are age 55 and over. This represents over 21,000 workers as being within 10 years of retirement. At the same time, only eight per cent of the workforce is under age 24.
In some trades the numbers are more startling – with nearly 30 per cent of the workforce over age 55. The ‘oldest trades’, where more than 25 per cent are within 10 years of retirement, include painters, tile setters and bricklayers. The youngest, where the greatest number of workers is under age 35, include powerline and cable workers, roofers and plumbers.
The study also shows the importance of immigration as a source of construction employees. In Ontario, immigrants account for 26 per cent of the total construction workforce. Around six per cent are recent immigrants, who have arrived in Canada since 2007.
The industry has a long way to go in terms of gender equity. Only two per cent of unionized skilled trades workers are female.
The highest representation of women in a discipline is six per cent in the painter’s trade.
Representation of visible minorities in construction varies greatly geographically. While close to 30 per cent of Toronto’s construction workforce is made up of visible minorities, this falls to around one per cent in northern and eastern Ontario.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Prism study shows that the unionized construction workers are most likely to have a college diploma, university degree or certificate of trade qualification – 26 per cent, as opposed to nine per cent in the non-union sector.
The union workers also have a substantial leg up in income. The average income for the union members is over $67,000. For the non-union employees, the average is around $45,000. What are the top earning trades? Number one is elevator constructor and mechanic, followed by power systems electricians and powerline and cable workers. Crane operators and millwrights also score well.
The OCS study goes into considerable detail and provides demographic breakdowns by trade – it is well worth reading if you need information on the workforce within a specific discipline.
This study confirms some topline trends that are common knowledge amongst construction stakeholders, but it provides some useful guideposts for workforce supply planning.
Notably, the industry needs to diversify. While immigrants are well represented in the construction sector, indeed they are probably saving us from an immediate skills shortage crisis, the industry needs to do better in other respects.
The low representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples is a concern. As our population ages, the construction industry will need to increase recruitment of underrepresented groups such as these.
Phil Gillies is executive director of the Ontario Construction Consortium. All statistical information is courtesy of the Ontario Construction Secretariat. Send comments and Industry Perspectives op-ed ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.