When COVID-19 took a wrecking ball to Canada’s economy, it swung in every direction. The pandemic decimated major sectors; grounding airlines, shuttering stores and restaurants and shelving many promising careers. While the timing seems terrible for job seekers, that’s only because they’re wearing blinders. The reality is, there’s plenty of opportunity to land a career that offers good pay, job security and a chance to advance. That’s what makes the construction trades the ideal career choice for these uncertain times.
No one can blame job seekers for feeling discouraged. Students and graduates are launching into the labour market during Canada’s worst economic meltdown. Job interviews have been cancelled and co-op programs cut, after companies across virtually every industry laid off three million Canadians at the height of the pandemic. And many won’t get their jobs back, given predictions that up to 100,000 businesses will close for good.
When the economy turns, the impact can be lasting, especially for those just starting their career. A report by the Royal Bank on the long-term consequences of graduating in a recession, found that those with university educations are less likely to wind up in management positions and more likely to work part-time in jobs below their skill level. With a vaccine some time away, Canada isn’t about to shake off the effects of this global pandemic anytime soon. All the more reason for job seekers to get realistic and focus on where the opportunities are.
That’s why the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA), with the support of its member companies and like-minded organizations, recently launched “Opportunity Knocks.” The campaign is aimed at putting the construction trades on the radar of more job seekers, especially those who find themselves in career limbo. It encourages anyone starting out in the labour market, or making a change, to consider what construction has to offer: rewarding, high demand, life-long careers that can start right away.
Deemed an “essential service” throughout the pandemic, the construction industry has been more resilient than most during the COVID-19 lockdown. Our workers were on the front lines, maintaining critical infrastructure, from energy plants to hospitals. Construction workers kept our water running, ensured our homes were powered and our broadband up to speed. Without question, the pandemic has brought the importance of the construction trades into greater focus.
We also know the skilled trades will matter even more in the future. According to Skills Canada, nearly 40 percent of jobs created in Canada this decade will be in the skilled trades, yet only about 26 percent of young people aged 13 to 24 are considering this career path. That’s the problem. There simply aren’t enough skilled workers to meet the growing demands of industry and our economy. As demographics shift, the skilled trades shortage is becoming more dire each year, resulting in project delays and billions of dollars annually in lost economic activity.
According to BuildForce Canada, the construction industry will need to attract more than 300,000 construction workers this decade. That’s to counter the retirement of roughly one quarter of Canada’s construction industry in the next ten years. For industry, this is a huge challenge. For job seekers, it’s a huge opportunity, especially for women, youth and Indigenous peoples, who are still vastly underrepresented in construction.
The opportunity is there, and so is the pay. According to Statistics Canada, most of those with apprenticeship certificates earn more than college or high school graduates. Apprentices also have the advantage of earning while they learn and graduating with no school debt. That’s a big advantage, given that many of today’s university graduates are saddled with thousands of dollars in student loans, and no job prospects.
It’s about time parents, guidance councillors, and students snapped out of the dated mindset that a university degree is somehow worth more than an apprenticeship and skills training. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney gets it, and others should too. “Apprenticeship learning has every bit as much value as academic learning, and skilled trades have every bit as much value, merit and worth as a university degree,” he said when announcing a 13-point “Job Skills for Alberta’s Economy” plan. It’s aimed at putting the skilled trades where they belong: on equal footing with all other academic pursuits.
Attracting investment and keeping our economy competitive, requires far more than a post-secondary system that turns out accountants and people who write code and create apps, especially now. As Canada recovers from the pandemic, it needs construction tradespeople more than ever to rebuild the economy.
When I was in school, I also worked in concrete form fitting and carpentry. I earned extra money and gained skills that I put to use as recently as last weekend, tearing down siding, framing, and putting up dry wall. Mastering a skilled trade is a life skill. It’s something to build on and be proud of. That’s what educators should be telling more students: make the skilled trades Plan A, not a fallback if another position doesn’t work out.
Anyone weighing their career options, should be strongly encouraged to pursue the construction trades as their very first choice. This is where the career opportunities are right now, and well into the future.
Paul de Jong is president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).
To learn more about the Opportunity Knocks Campaign, go to: opportunity-knocks.ca.