Calgary, Alberta



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BY: BIC | MARCH 1, 2024


The labour shortage. It’s on every employer’s lips, especially in the trades. The Government of Alberta forecasts a shortage of 3,000 workers per occupation across 11 sectors by 2030. Counted among those sectors are “construction trades helpers and labourers; home building and renovation managers and contractors and supervisors; other construction trades, installers, repairers and servicers.”

This begs the question, what can be done? Some organizations are taking action, including PCL, one of the largest contracting companies in North America.

Chris Gower, deputy CEO, PCL Construction, says, “Labour shortages in the construction sector can cause project delays, an increased risk of safety incidents due to inexperienced employees and pressure on the already thin margins and tight timelines under which we operate. Without a sufficient supply of skilled labour and considering the post-pandemic boom in infrastructure spending, builders struggle to meet the pent-up demand for critical community infrastructure. Many factors contribute to this skill shortage and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Over the last decade, we have been proactively investing in building a talent pipeline that attracts individuals to our industry.”

To effectively build the pipeline from high school to a career in construction, PCL engages with industry associations, schools and technical colleges/universities to raise awareness among students that the industry offers rewarding careers.

“Our Careers in Construction presentation teaches children about apprenticeships and the value of getting paid to learn. In partnership with our virtual design and construction department, we’ve created engaging sessions that allow young students to virtually tour our job sites,” Gower says.

“PCL also supports many post-secondary institutions. Employees and leadership sit on advisory boards for numerous college programs and professional associations across Canada, including the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta. We partner with educational institutions by sponsoring scholarships and awards, strengthening the skilled-labour pipeline in our communities. Since 2017, PCL has donated over $1 million to post-secondary institutions across Canada and the United States.”

These efforts are paying off. Last year, PCL provides more than 787 interns from 130 colleges and universities in Canada and the United States with real-world experience in the construction industry in their area of study. In 2023, 152 former students joined PCL full-time, filling nearly 50 per cent of the entry-level engineering positions.

Gower speaks to the misconception about trade work that hampers students from embarking on this career path.

“Too often students and their parents harbour misconceptions that construction work is a dead-end, dangerous, boring and outdated career choice. We need to actively tackle these misconceptions by showcasing the advanced technologies used in construction and highlighting the exciting opportunities for growth and advancement in the field.

“The benefits of going into construction include gaining an education without incurring heavy student debt, being well compensated and having the potential for rapid career progression. The construction industry offers a dynamic and innovative work environment where creativity and problem solving are highly valued. Additionally, the sense of achievement in building tangible, impactful projects that shape communities can be a powerful motivator, offering a fulfilling and prosperous career choice.”

PCL will continue to take action and be a leader in advancing the benefits and rewards of trades.

“The construction industry can’t just wait for the skilled labour shortage to resolve itself. Industry and government should work together to build new and creative strategies to address the challenges. We need more action from governments, quickly,” Gower adds.

McKee Homes, a family-run award-winning homebuilder with more than 35 years of creating communities is also invested in bringing youth into trades. For 12 years McKee Homes has administered a program called Building Futures.

Grace McKee, executive vice president, owner, says, “Grade 10 students participate in a unique educational program while attending school on our job site, where they complete their core classes while gaining hands on experience in home building. During the school year, students work alongside our trade partners to construct one to two homes, exposing them to such areas as engineering, design, supply chains, marketing, sales and construction. Our hope with Building Futures is to raise awareness about the exciting and rewarding opportunities in our industry and inspire students to explore many of the potential career paths.”

Ryan Doel, sales and marketing manager, adds, “Students get hands-on experience in various aspects of home construction, including surveying, excavation, framing, plumbing, electrical, finish carpentry and drywall. They also gain insight into the world of lending and mortgages, marketing, sales, and design.”

The experience has, for many, launched the students into construction careers thanks to the hands-on experience and exposure to trades professionals at every level.

Another organization tackling the challenge head on is Women Building Futures (WBF) where the main goal is to help women gain economic security. By training, connecting and supporting women to embrace trades, WBF is also tapping into a major labour pool that has infinite benefits for the future of trades in Alberta. The organization was formed by City of Edmonton social workers when it was noted how easy it was to place men into high paying careers, but those same opportunities for women were not available.

Jess Thomson, director of external relations and growth, says, “Currently there is about 5 per cent women in skilled trades in Alberta. One of the first barriers for women entering the trades is simply awareness of the opportunity of working in the trades. We aim to raise awareness of these opportunities and help women see themselves in these opportunities and careers.  

A critical piece of the puzzle for WBF is supporting employers.

Thomson says, “Our Employer of Choice is a membership program that shows WBF’s employer partners’ commitment to inclusion in the workplace and to support their ongoing journey of providing safe and equitable work environments. We help our Employer of Choice identify areas of strength within their organizations and identify areas where they might need help.

“We have tools available for employers, like Work Proud, which can create a more inclusive, respectful work environment. We support our employer partners through continuous learning by providing connections to specialized resources; diversity, equity and inclusion training and access to a community that shares best practices and finds solutions to common problems. We are committed towards that long-term vision, and this can be achieved through industry partners who share these values.”

WBF students are supported for life.

“We journey with women at the onset as they seek new opportunities. Our approach aims to prepare and educate women, not only through training but for the career that comes afterward. Our alumni team is forever connected to our grads,” Thomson notes. “We connect at one month, three months, etc. Alumni is there for the rest of their careers to help students through future career changes, to address workplace issues and help them succeed overall in the trades.”

She concludes, “The trades are an incredibly powerful place for women and a powerful way to build a career. If you have your journeyperson ticket, that never gets taken away from you.”

The trades shortage is real and growing but thanks to organizations like PCL, McKee Homes and Women Building Futures, the perception of trades is turning around and there is hope on the horizon.

BY: BIC | MARCH 1, 2024