There’s a serious labour supply shortage threatening Ontario’s construction industry. Tackling it requires a new approach as it’s estimated we’ll need to hire and train over 100,000 new workers by the end of the decade in this province just to keep pace with anticipated growth and retirements.
It is time to change our traditional recruitment methods and reach out to more underrepresented groups like women and youth from Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. They are an untapped resource for the industry, and it is critical that we promote careers to this demographic.
Presently, women make up only 12 per cent of construction employment in Ontario and, in 2020, Indigenous people accounted for only 2.7 per cent of the construction workforce. We also know from worksite demographics that BIPOC workers do not make up a large part of the construction workforce.
RESCON has made diversity, equity and inclusion of underrepresented groups such as women and BIPOC workers a strategic priority. This past April, we launched a BIPOC youth advisory committee.
After speaking to youth on the committee about the different ways we could increase BIPOC interests in the construction industry, we learned that, first there needs to be more outreach and awareness in high schools from guidance counsellors, and second they need to see more people that look like them in the industry.
In November, RESCON, with the help of the Anti-Racism Roundtable, launched a #BIPOCinConstruction testimonial campaign to highlight the voices of diverse and racialized workers in construction and to let BIPOC youth know that the construction industry is a viable career option.
RESCON worked with a team of five inspiring BIPOC youth on the testimonials. Their stories show how they got into the industry and why they like working in construction. You can read more about the campaign at www.rescon.com.
Mulisius Joe, a concrete former with Carpenters Local 27 who grew up in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, explained that seeing another woman on-site in a lead position gave her a lot of confidence. Her favourite part about being in construction is the sense of accomplishment she feels at the end of the day.
Jenelle Richards, a site administrator at The Daniels Corp. who grew up in Kitchener to Jamaican parents, says the sky is the limit for women considering a career in construction and you can work your way up from anywhere. She likes the job because it allows her to meet and work with people of different backgrounds.
David Kim, a third-year concrete former apprentice with Local 27 who came to Canada from South Korea at age 12, says the potential of working in the industry is limitless and construction can help young people reach their dreams and goals faster.
A big takeaway is that we must reach high school guidance counsellors about the industry as they can influence decisions of young people, so they need to be educated about the construction industry.
The provincial government is taking steps to make this happen. In the fall economic statement, an additional $90 million was announced for the Skilled Trades Strategy to help break the stigma associated with the trades by improving details about the industry to educators and guidance counsellors.
A diversity and inclusion governance structure, meanwhile, is also being established within Skilled Trades Ontario.
These are certainly positive moves. We must send the message that the skilled trades are a viable career option for everyone – and that includes women and BIPOC youth.
Richard Lyall, president of RESCON, has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected].