by Stacy Dunn
Career Development Services in Charlottetown marked Canada Career Month in November with a series of workshops, one of which offered a current overview of PEI’s construction industry.
Sam Sanderson, General Manager of the Construction Association of PEI (CAPEI) and Riley Aiello, HR Advisor with the association, spoke about opportunities in the industry. CAPEI has about 190 members, 80 to 90 percent of which are small to medium-sized businesses employing up to 20 people.
“There’s no better time to get into construction than right now,” Sam says. “PEI is leading the nation in population growth, economic growth, and construction growth. It’s amazing to see construction companies from across the Atlantic region, and as far away as Quebec, looking to become members of our association.”
Programs address labour shortage
For nearly 30 years, CAPEI has offered the Youth in Trades Program, funded by the federal government. Participants must be 16 to 30 years old. They spend eight weeks of classroom time exploring careers in trades, and get employability skills and safety training.
They complete three to five days of orientation at Holland College and tour construction worksites. They also receive a 14-week paid entry-level work placement in the construction industry.
CAPEI just completed its first Youth in Trades group on Lennox Island. “Five out of the 10 participants are working on Habitat for Humanity projects on Lennox Island and two are employed full-time,” says Sam.
The association also held its first Newcomers in Trades program in Charlottetown. “The program was tremendously successful. It created opportunities to match participants with employers. We are looking forward to doing more programs with these groups.”
Since 2017, Team Construction, funded by the provincial government, has included the Island Builder job search website and HR advising at no cost to CAPEI members, who can also get help with posting jobs and with hiring the right candidate.
Team Construction also delivered a career exploration program for youth 18 to 35, similar to the Youth in Trades program funded by the federal government. CAPEI is in the process of forming a committee to further enhance women in the trades, with the focus on employment opportunities.
Need for more workers
“The biggest resources right now are women, newcomers to Canada, youth, and the Indigenous community,” says Sam. “It’s valuable to bring all these groups together to provide opportunities. We are discovering under represented talent and addressing the aging workforce in the industry.”
BuildForce Canada released a report in January 2019 that speculated in 10 years PEI would need 1,200 people in the construction sector. Sam says the next report in January 2020 may project a future need for 1,500 workers, mostly as the result of retirements. He says most workers are now between 55 and 65 years old.
“We promote the industry to junior high and senior high schools, colleges and universities, and tell students it’s a way to earn while you learn all throughout your career.”
Job opportunities and innovation in construction
Part of Sam’s job is travelling to meet with his counterparts in the rest of Canada. When he was in Vancouver and Whitehorse recently, they talked about how successful PEI has been in housing starts. He says inquiries are coming in across the country on how to become an employee or supplier in the construction sector on PEI.
“There is tremendous opportunity in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, landscaping, general labour and truck driving,” Sam says, “There are about 400 jobs currently available. Many companies are looking for apprentices.”
With change in construction technology and products, Sam says the focus for the association now is to work smarter. They are concentrating on educating employers and workers about health and safety on site.
He is also welcoming innovative technologies. “I just met with a company that makes solar-powered shingles, which could add tremendous value to the industry.
“There are always new materials and products coming out,” Sam says. “Every time you learn something new, it increases your net worth, experience, and ability to get your Red Seal.”
Difficult jobs to fill
Estimator is one job that is hard to fill in the industry. Sam hopes initiatives such as mentorship and training can help with these vacancies.
“We are trying to encourage retiring people to do mentoring, and employers are looking for incentives to draw them back, like working part-time,” he says.
Sam notes Estimators need 10 to 20 years of experience to be able to fully do this job. “About 25 companies on PEI are looking for Estimators. Our association is trying to bring a course to the Island to train construction workers as Estimators. Time is money in this industry and it’s important to have people with a wide range of skills.”
More staff needed for growing number of construction projects
In 2018, an estimated $360 million of construction work was done on PEI. In 2019, there was a 37 percent increase in residential construction permits, and a 33 percent increase in commercial construction. CAPEI says people are coming to, or returning to PEI to start their own construction business, joining CAPEI, and getting assistance from SkillsPEI.
“There is so much going on right now, companies are turning down work because they don’t have enough employees,” says Riley. “Projects are getting pushed back as a result.
“It’s a good time for heavy machinery operators. One company is looking for five to six snowplow operators, with the possibility of keeping them on full-time for landscaping in the spring.”
The construction boom means building supply stores are doing well. Kent Building Supplies will need to hire 260 workers during the next five years. Sam notes most staff members are near or at retirement age and jobs will be available in sales, customer service, yard work, truck drivers, and boom operators.
“Spring Valley Building Supplies has grown 500 percent in the last two or three years. They are hiring shipping/receiving, truck drivers, and boom operators. North Rustico Home Hardware has grown 700 percent in the last two years. That means more staff are needed at building supplies stores.”
Plans for the future
Sam says his dream is to see a full-time facility dedicated to construction skills training, similar to the former Provincial Vocational Institute (PVI). He notes 90 percent of PEI employers in construction attended PVI. “A full-time facility would offer a continuous opportunity to create hands-on training.
“Each of our Youth in Trades programs have only 10 seats, but we received about 61 applications for one intake. A full-time facility would help all of those interested in moving forward in a trades career.”
The facility he envisions would teach six skills to all participants: electrical, plumbing, carpentry, drywall, masonry and roofing. “The hands-on experience would help each participant choose the path that suits them.”
For more information about employment or training opportunities in construction, call 902-368-3303. Visit www.capei.ca
Island Builder is delivered by the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning and funded in whole or in part through the Canada- PEI Labour Market Agreement.