I may be stating the obvious here, but to build the housing that’s needed for the future we must have skilled trades. And in light of the fact domestic hiring alone can’t keep up with demand, it is critical that we seek workers from other countries who have the skills needed for residential construction.
To that end, the residential building community is excited that Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton has inked a historic agreement with the federal government to increase the number of economic immigrants.
This will allow more foreign-trained workers with specialized skill sets and skilled trades experience to immigrate to the province in order to fill positions in construction and other industries.
The landmark deal will enable the province to substantially increase the number of economic immigrants it selects through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) from 9,750 in 2022 to 16,500 in 2023 and more than 18,000 by 2025. We have advocated for this for some time now.
The long-awaited amendments to the OINP will make it easier for more immigrants with international experience in voluntary trades in construction and other industries to come to work in Ontario.
The changes will streamline the administrative process for new immigrants and help address the labour shortage that we are experiencing in the residential and infrastructure sectors of construction.
The labour outlook is disconcerting. Latest figures from BuildForce Canada show that in the GTA alone, nearly 43,000 construction workers, or 23 per cent of the current labour force, are set to retire.
Considering the projected volume of work today, there is a large void that will need to be filled.
The residential construction industry relies on workers with specialized skill sets to build houses, condos, and infrastructure like sewers and roads. Traditionally, many of these workers have been immigrants.
The industry will need to add tens of thousands of additional workers just to replace those who are expected to retire in the coming years. There is no way to make up that shortfall without foreign workers.
Expanding the immigrant nominee program to allow more foreign-trained skilled trades into Ontario is crucial to ensuring we can build the much-needed housing and infrastructure of the future.
One of the problems has been that the immigration system has been weighted to disproportionately favour newcomers who have formal education, certificates, and language skills.
Problem is, many of those who work in the voluntary trades in residential construction does not have the required credentials that make them favoured candidates for immigration. But they do have the specialized skill sets needed to build houses, condos, and apartments. These professions include tile setters, drywallers, concrete and drain workers, those who do high-rise concrete and basement forming, and the finishing carpentry trades.
Substantially raising the numbers under the OINP will enable the province to bring in more of the voluntary trades who have experience in construction.
The province has set a target of building 1.5 million homes over 10 years. However, the need is probably higher. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation figures we must build 1.85 million homes in Ontario by 2030 to have affordability. We’re not going to get there unless we have more trades.
To ensure we train the trades of the future, there must also be more incentives for builders to hire apprentices. When it comes to skilled trades training, employers are on the front line. They are the primary educators of those who work in the voluntary trades and need to be recognized as such.
However, we have a huge systemic problem in how we fund employers who support education and training. The system needs to be tweaked. We pump huge amounts of money into academic training and universities and colleges, but educators of the skilled trades aren’t being equally compensated.
The bottom line is that we are not systemically supporting skilled trades training like we do other careers.
We must boost support for employers who train the trades. These days, with housing in such demand, learning a skilled trade is much more valuable than a diploma.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected].