“If you build it, they will come.” Most people remember this famous line from the Kevin Costner baseball movie Field of Dreams. The line has particular resonance for British Columbia these days, with lots of major construction projects in the planning. The question is, will B.C. have enough skilled labourers to come and handle the work?
As Business In Vancouver explains, several multibillion-dollar projects are set to be built over the next two years, requiring as many as 15,000 workers. These construction projects include:
- Site C dam
- LNG Canada
- Coastal GasLink pipeline
- Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, should it restart.
Business In Vancouver reminds us of a few wild cards, as well. The project list could extend to comprise: Woodfibre LNG; construction of the new Pattullo Bridge; the Millennium Line Broadway Extension; and expansions to ports and the Vancouver International Airport. Phew!
The Construction industry organization BuildForce Canada warns that there may not be enough workers to staff all these ventures. And Bob de Wit, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, shares with his own cautionary note with BIV: “There is some competition and a trickle-down effect in these big projects. They pull many labourers, and skilled labourers as well, from other parts of the construction industry. We’re also seeing a big ramping up of social housing construction in B.C., led by the government. And that’s a good thing, but the negative part of it is that it does drive labour rates at a time when we’re pretty much at full capacity.”
However, Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades, is more optimistic. As the BIV article says, Building Trades, representing 40,000 workers, “works with industry, government and other unions to predict labour needs and co-ordinate between projects so that workers from across Canada and — if need be — the U.S. are available.”
Trades grads at the ready
Another reason for optimism: the substantial number of skilled grads coming out of highly regarded postsecondary schools like the B.C. Institute of Technology. Now, some industry watchers worry that a portion of these grads will be replacing retirees, therefore not filling the needed number of new positions. However, Wayne Hand, dean of BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment, tells BIV, “With things like LNG starting up, and then a lot of other large infrastructure projects – [like] hospitals – even though the residential [sector] may be softening, I still think there’s going to be a high demand for skilled workers in this province.”
BCIT isn’t alone in offering trades training. Through its Red Seal certification, BC Building Trades annually ushers about 700 workers into the industry. BC Hydro offers trades instruction in Surrey and each year hires 400 apprentices, pre-apprentices, co-op students and technologist and engineering trainees to work on various projects.
This is an evolving issue, and Stilewood will keep you informed on the construction industry’s labour force in these times of ever-more-burgeoning projects.