13 innovative efforts to fill Canada’s skilled trades gap

These groups are leaving no stone unturned to find the next generation of workers.

Attendees try out construction trades at a Construction Boot Camp in Quebec. – Quebec Construction Association

The Canadian construction industry’s skilled labour shortage is daunting.

The latest 10-year forecast from BuildForce Canada sees overall hiring requirements in the industry exceeding 299,000 due to the retirement of approximately 20% of the 2022 labour force and growth in worker demand of more than 54,000. They predict this could mean retirement-recruitment gap of more than 61,000 workers.

But the industry isn’t giving up. We rounded up a list of new and recent efforts by associations, companies, government and individuals to find fill those labour gaps.

Even our team at SiteNews is lending a hand. This week we launched SiteNews Jobs, a hub for Canadian employers and senior-level job seekers to connect.

Check out our list below and let us know if there are other efforts that deserve to be highlighted.

BC Construction Association

The Builders Life campaign highlights what kind of life a construction worker can have. – BCCA

The BC Construction Association (BCCA) received more than $21 million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Apprenticeship Service to encourage small and medium sized employers in BC’s construction industry to hire and register first-year apprentices. Participating employers will receive $5,000 for hiring or registering any worker. However, an additional $5,000 will be received if the worker self-reports as a woman, new Canadian, LGBTQ+, Indigenous, a person with a disability, or a visible minority. Companies could receive a maximum of $40,000.  The association also has been working to highlight the lifestyle a tradesperson can have outside of work with its Builders Life campaign.

A Women’s Work

A photo from EthelFox shows one of its completed renovation projects. – EthelFox

You don’t always need to be a large company or industry group to make a difference. Construction entrepreneur Natasha Ferguson started EthelFox Construction Group which offers a wide range of services. In addition to her business, she started A Women’s Work, a non-profit based in Ontario, to provide training for women in the trades through pre-apprenticeship programs. Her goal is to offer free training to as many women as possible. 

Helmets to Hardhats

Helmets to Hardhats focuses on former military members who want to join the civilian workforce. – Helmets to Hardhats

Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) Canada is a registered non-profit organization providing opportunities in the unionized construction industry for serving, transitioning and former military members. According to H2H, trying to find a civilian career after spending years working in the military can be a daunting task for many. 

Tłı̨chǫ Trades Apprenticeship Program

Tłı̨chǫ and N.W.T officials have an intergovernmental meeting. – Tłı̨chǫ Government

Earlier this year the Tłı̨chǫ government in the N.W.T. received more than $2.4 million from the federal government to start the Tłı̨chǫ Trades Apprenticeship program. It will pair 30 first-year apprentices with small and medium-sized businesses in the region over the next two years. The program will focus on Red Seal trades like carpentry, welding and plumbing. 

Aecon Women in Trades

Aecon is looking to continue and possibly expand its AWIT program. – Aecon

Large companies like Aecon are also doing their part to bring more people into the sector. Aecon’s Women in Trades (AWIT) Program, initially launched in 2019, is focused on creating more opportunities for women to enter the trades. In 2022, Aecon partnered with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development through their Skills Development Fund to expand the success of the AWIT program with a target of recruiting, training and employing 350 women in various trades roles across Aecon’s operations.

Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario

The PBCTCO was established in 1957 to be the collective voice of construction workers at the provincial level. – PBCTCO

The Ontario government plans to spend $3.5 million in province-wide training initiatives to help more students launch careers in the skilled trades. These projects, led by the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario (PBCTCO), are expected to reach 2,000 young people. The programs focus on underrepresented groups and at-risk youth. 

Opportunities for workers with criminal records

HammerHeads is one of several groups that is being funded to help workers with criminal records get construction careers. – Central Ontario Building Trades

This year Ontario officials announced $12 million in funding to give a second chance to workers with criminal records. Funding recipients included construction-related groups like HammerHeads, Prison Fellowship Canada and The Oaks Revitalization Association. The nine programs are expected to reach 2,000 people. According to the province, more than one million residents have a criminal record, which can decrease the chances of a second interview by 50 per cent and drastically increases the likelihood of long-term poverty.  

Dora Construction

École Secondaire Mosaïque in Dartmouth, N.S. is one of the company’s recent projects. – Dora Construction

Dora Construction travelled from Nova Scotia to the Global Refugee Labour Mobility Summit in Jordan’s capital Amman this year after struggling to find workers in Canada. The summit was hosted by Talent Beyond Boundaries which seeks to connect refugees with job opportunities. Many candidates are Syrians who are fleeing violence in their country. The trip is part of a provincial strategy to fill labour gaps. 

SISTERS’ Program

An Okanagan College student practices her skills. – Okanagan College

Last year Okanagan College started a new, fully subsidized program to train more Indigenous women as carpenters. The SISTERS’ program trains students in the basics of carpentry, including how to use tools and work with different materials. Students in the 30-week program will have their tuition paid and will receive dedicated funds for textbooks, personal protective equipment, and tools.

BILD Alberta Scholarships for Construction Careers initiative

Left to right: Reva Bond, dean of the School of Construction, Michael Orr, carpentry student, Scott Fash, executive director of BILD Alberta, Jay Westman, chair and CEO of Jayman BUILT, and David Ross, SAIT president and CEO. – SAIT

Homebuilders in Alberta are spending millions to help establish a new scholarship fund to assist students wanting to study carpentry, plumbing, sheet metal, electrician, bricklayer, cabinet maker, roofer, drywall, glazier, insulator and painter, for example, and will help workers on a pathway to their journeyperson certifications. Officials are hoping to raise $15 million. Major donations have already been made by Jayman BUILT, Anthem Properties and Homes by Avi.

Indigenous cohorts

B.C. electricians in training pose with all their gear. – EJTC

Efforts to develop Indigenous-focused programs and alternative methods of recruitment are paying off for the Electrical Joint Training Committee (EJTC) in B.C. For the past seven years, the group has been leading Indigenous cohorts through training to get careers as electricians. While it started focusing on entry-level training, the program is looking at expanding to offer Indigenous cohorts for all four years of Red Seal training. 

Construction Boot Camp

A video recaps a recent Construction Boot Camp held in Montreal. – Quebec Construction Association

This year the Quebec Construction Association plans to host a series of weekend workshops to encourage participation in the trades. The free Construction Boot Camp program is open to anyone interested in trying in-demand trades like carpentry or plumbing. Afterwards they can sign up for a 5-month program, earn a diploma and look to begin an apprenticeship. 

Permanent residence pilot program 

Sean Fraser, minister of Immigration, refugees and citizenship, says the expansion will help with labour shortages in the GTA. – Government of Canada

In 2019, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), launched a permanent residence pilot program for 500 out-of-status workers in the construction industry in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Earlier this year officials announced they were doubling the scope of the program so it would benefit 1,000 workers.


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