Trades shortage

\The Northern Regional Construction Association (NRCA) represents 250 industrial, commercial and institutional (union and non-union) companies in Northern BC, who are directly involved in construction services. Our collective voice advocates for fair, equal and transparent procurement practices. 

As such, the NRCA is providing an industry response to the January 14 Prince George Citizen article titled, “Albertans working on pool project, labour rep says.”  We believe comments made by Mike Andrews of the BC Regional Council of Carpenters are misleading and inaccurate.  

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Mr. Andrews states “there are plenty of qualified local carpenters who could do the work on what is a taxpayer-funded project.”

This statement is unfounded, especially in light of 2020 construction industry statistics indicating that labour needs associated with the current $112 billion dollar of construction contracts in BC cannot be met. It is estimated that about 29,000 construction jobs will be unfilled by 2029 due to shortages of workers and retirements. This highlights the greatest challenge facing the construction industry, which continues to be the scarcity of locally qualified tradespeople.     

Additionally, research indicates that 40 per cent of construction contracts awarded in BC during 2020 resulted in the hiring of workers from Alberta because qualified and skilled tradespeople were not available locally, regionally, or in BC.

Labour mobility versus labour protectionism is a delicate balancing act in today’s construction environment and local governments are required to respect current trade agreements that endorse full labour mobility between Alberta and BC. 

Mr. Andrews further commented that “as a Prince George taxpayer, you would hope that these projects and the money produced by these projects stays in the community. And I find it upsetting that our leaders in the community aren't making sure that this happens." 

 It is important to note that the City of Prince George and Chandos Construction (leading construction of the new downtown pool) worked extensively with NRCA from the project outset to ensure every opportunity was provided to local contractors and suppliers to bid on the project requirements. 

It is the opinion of NRCA that the city and Chandos Construction exceeded expectations in relation to the promotion of fair and open bidding opportunities to local firms. Meetings with the NRCA Construction Advisory Council and the College of New Caledonia (to review trades programs), as well as consistent and diligent communication of bidding opportunities, are some examples of efforts to include local contractors and suppliers.   

In some cases, local contractors decided not to respond to bid opportunities because their labour pool was allocated to other local and regional projects. Commercial construction demands, combined with strong construction activity in the residential market, has exacerbated the problem of labour shortages. 

The current reality is that the construction industry is trying to respond to significant infrastructure spending in BC, in the midst of persistent shortages of skilled tradespeople to meet the demand. While we fully recognize the value of employing local tradespeople, complex projects like the construction of the downtown pool depend on the availability of a significant number of qualified workers.   

Scott Bone 

CEO, Northern Regional Construction Association  

 

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