by Heidi Riley
A BuildForce Canada construction industry investment update reports that residential construction on PEI is currently doing well. The report says:
Residential construction on PEI entered the pandemic period with a solid housing market. While housing starts remained strong early this year, they are expected to fall from their 2019 peak, as construction is delayed due to pandemic-related constraints.
The outlook for new home construction is expected to remain elevated over previous years but is unlikely to return to 2019 levels, as job losses are expected to affect buyers over the short term. Residential construction is estimated to decline by 12.9 percent in 2020 as housing slows and then resumes growth in 2021, going up by about 7.2 percent.
Employment on PEI saw a strong recovery in May 2020, exceeding both pre-COVID-19 and 2019 levels as projects resumed and workers returned. The unemployment rate contracted significantly from 24.6 percent in April to 2.6 percent in June, five percentage points lower than the same period last year.
Over the next 24 months, residential and non-residential construction demand is expected to increase as deferred and planned new projects get underway, resulting in increased employment in 2021 and sustained employment in 2022.”
Canadian Home Builders Association-PEI (CHBA-PEI)
“Residential construction on PEI is currently going really well,” says Allan Manley, Executive Officer, CHBA-PEI. “There is still a high demand for labour.”
“I would say the industry is currently as busy as it was in 2019,” says Andrew Garth, President, CHBA-PEI. “Last fall, most builders were already fully booked for 2020, and we are close to the same level this year. Buildforce Canada says housing starts are down 12 percent, but if you take away the two months of no new starts, we are on par with last year. I don’t know any contractors who don’t have enough work, and the outlook is positive for at least the next six months to one year.
“The second quarter of 2020 had 138 projects completed in the Charlottetown area, which is a step up from last year,” says Allan. “This is the third year that people are anticipating building through the winter. It used to be people went on EI through the winter, but now foundations are being poured in advance just so that they can keep up with demand.”
Allan says 210 apartment units were built across the Island, which is an uptick in multi-unit apartment dwellings.
Effect of COVID-19 measures
“We were lucky to be deemed an essential service throughout the COVID-19 shutdown,” says Allan. “There was a bit of a slowdown as we learned how to work with the new rules and regulations, and as we got used to integrating personal protective equipment into our building sites. Builders were allowed to continue working on existing building permits, but work slowed down a bit as new building permits were not issued for about two months.”
“Once things opened up again in May, things moved very quickly, and builders got back on the job,” says Andrew. “There are some issues with suppliers getting enough materials, and it can take twice as long to get the supplies we need. Furniture and appliances can also be hard to get right now.”
“Supply will continue to be an issue,” says Allan. “One Island building supply centre says wood prices are very high and supply is very limited. The price of exterior treated wood is 40 to 50 percent higher this year. White wood, which is used in interior construction, has gone up 70 to 90 percent. These price increases mean that the cost of building a house is going up.”
Jobs in demand
“At the moment, Tilers are in great demand,” says Andrew. “But I think General Labourers are in highest demand. Most companies would be willing to take on at least one more General Labourer as an entry-level Carpenter.
“Job demand is running relatively smoothly this year, with fewer delays due to people not being able to work. Houses are closing relatively on time, maybe because we are getting better at scheduling in advance.”
“Salaries depend on what skills and experience a person comes in with,” says Allan. “A person with no experience but is mechanically minded and has spatial awareness earns about $15/hr. They are not skilled at that point, so they require more time and supervision.
“Most job ads say $18 to $22/hour for Carpenters with a general knowledge of building,” says Andrew. “People who come in green need an investment from the employer, so they start at a lower rate. As you learn and are able to work independently, you can quickly see a growth in salary as you become an asset to the company.
“A big part of wages is work ethic, showing up on time every day, and a willingness to learn. Those are key things to make it in any profession. Those with a good work ethic are the ones I will want to train and expand their skills.”
“You don’t have to go to Holland College to be able to access the Apprenticeship program, which is a fantastic tool,” says Allan.
A $1,000 federal grant available to registered apprentices when they complete level 1 and another $1,000 grant when they complete level 2.
A $2,000 federal grant that is available to apprentices who complete apprenticeship and successfully write the Red Seal exam. An additional $6,000 is available to women to encourage them to earn their Red Seal.
For more information, visit Apprenticeship Grants.
How to get started as an entry-level Carpenter
“New entrants must learn the basics first, and they have to expect to start from the bottom so that they can achieve the next level,” says Allan.
“If someone without a formal education is interested in Carpentry, it is definitely possible. It works best if you go with a builder who is open to training. When you first start out, having a discussion with the employer about expectations on both sides would help that person move along the process.”
“Most builders are looking for people who are willing to learn, reliable and dependable,” says Andrew. “Most experienced builders didn’t start by going to school. They learned on the job and are comfortable teaching people how to frame a house.
“A friend of mine who was a painter is now learning how to assemble cabinets and pour foundations. His employer was willing to teach him new skills. If a contractor sees that you are ambitious and interested, they will give you a chance to move towards other jobs like installing trim or putting on a roof. If you keep trying to learn, you will get the education from being on site.
“Being punctual, communicating, and willing to learn and listen are the best things you can have as a beginning worker. Holland College gives you a step up, but there are so many handy people who can be an asset right away.”
Job titles in residential construction
- Project Manager
- Home Inspector
- General Contractor
- General Labourer
- Framing Carpenter
- Fine Carpenter
- Drywaller/Seam Filler
- Landscape Designer
- Siding Installer
- Foundation Installer
- Building supplies retail
- Interior Designer
- Tiling and Flooring Installer
- Architectural Technologist
Working in construction: future outlook
“It is good to see that residential construction is such a stable path of employment,” says Allan. “As the crisis hit, we continued to work. You can socially distance because much of the work is outside, digging foundations and framing houses and putting up roofs.
“If you are worried about getting into a career that may not be there in the future because of the rise of artificial intelligence, construction will always need people. And many people in the industry are getting to the age where they are looking to retire. There is definitely room for new entrants to the industry.”
Andrew and Allan say that the influx of newcomers to PEI has helped drive the demand for residential construction. “As long as the province maintains its current policies and encourages immigration of skilled individuals, it will benefit all facets of the PEI economy, including residential construction,” says Allan.
“We benefit from the much higher housing prices in Ontario, Alberta, and BC. Many baby boomers are selling their homes there and buying or building homes on PEI for much less money.”
CHBA-PEI has approximately 35 members, including new home builders and renovators, land developers, trade contractors, product and material manufacturers, building product suppliers, lending institutions, insurance providers, service professionals and those specializing in plumbing & heating, windows, siding, electrical, and many more.
It is a national lobby group that communicates with municipal, provincial and federal governments. It provides services to its members such as helping to promote the trades as a viable career choice, and facilitates training with Workers Compensation Board, Fall Arrest, and other essential training.
From employee to owner of a stairway construction company
Andrew Garth is owner of Ravenwood Stairways in Alberton. He started at the company as a Salesperson and Estimator, and then purchased the company six years ago.
Andrew, who is an Islander, was working in Ontario, came home and was hired by the company to help reinvigorate sales and develop the Maritime market. After four years, the owner Ralph Clark decided to retire, and developed a succession plan to sell the company to Andrew.
Since then, Andrew has brought on two partners, and has expanded the business significantly. “The boom on PEI has helped get our name out to a lot more contractors, and now we can prove the benefits of saving time and money with a subcontracted staircase.”
The company has been a member and has been involved with the Canadian Homebuilders Association-PEI for a number of years.
Ravenwood has five employees, including:
- Shop Manager
- Stair Designer and Installation Expert who has been with the company since the late 1980s
- Two Installers
- A part-time worker in the summer
“It is hard to find qualified labourers that are ready to jump into the business,” says Andrew. “We need a specific set of skills and we pride ourselves in our workmanship. If I lost one of my more experienced workers, it would be very hard to find someone to come into the position and pay him what he is worth, while they are being trained. Even though a person may be very knowledgeable in the construction trade, it could take at least three months working with an experienced stair maker to get up to speed.
“Bringing in younger students isn’t always easy either. An entry-level position involves a lot of moving and sanding, and the work can be slow, mundane, and tedious. It takes someone who is interested and motivated to start from the bottom, build their skills, and work their way up.
“Our people started at an entry-level position and built their skills. Some have been with us for more than 20 years, and some have started businesses of their own.
“In 2019, we took on a Holland College Transitions program student who is working out really well. He is a success story. We hired him after the program finished, and he is still learning and working hard.
“We will be moving him into a role where he is more independent as he learns to install stairs himself. It can be a long training process. The last person we hired took five years of training before he was comfortable building and installing a staircase on his own.”
Andrew says he expects his employees to be very self-sufficient and have great attention to detail. “We need staff to be able to work independently and make their own decisions so that the job gets done on time. The work is very much project-based, and if we get the project done on time, we can take off personal time when needed.
“Our work hours are 7 am to 5 pm, with Friday afternoons off, and our employees like that arrangement.”
Women in construction
“A diversified labour force will benefit all sections of the industry,” says Andrew. “One woman was with us for seven years, doing finishing work and drafting work on the computer, and she moved on to become a Drafter. We had an Administrator in the business as well, who has moved on to another administration job. I am seeing more and more women doing labour work on construction sites.”
Andrew believes there will be a big increase in women in the trades in the future, especially in business management. “There are many husband and wife teams where the husband does the traditional hammer and nail role and the wife handles the books, schedules the tradespeople on a job and makes sure things are running on time and on budget.
“I think women could be intimidated working with men, and it is not something business owners always consider. It is a learning curve for everyone. Women bring a different perspective to the workplace, and it is important to include them.”
For more information about Ravenwood Stairways, call 902-853-3037.
For more information, visit www.ravenwoodstairways.com