Apprenticeship Week – November 6-10

VRCA gearing up to bust some deep-rooted myths to attract youth to the industry

The importance of the construction industry to BC’s economy cannot be overstated. The $15billion industry generates 8% of the province’s wealth and employs more than 200,000 workers, making it BC’s largest employer. The industry is professional, progressive and forward-thinking and builds the state-of-the-art infrastructure that we use everyday.

It is therefore ironic that the industry that relies on innovation, new technologies and best practice procedures, has difficulty attracting young talent. Currently in the grip of a skilled labour shortage that BuildForce Canada forecasts will increase to just over 25,000 construction jobs by 2024, the industry attracts only 1 in 85 high school graduates into its construction trades programs. That ratio needs to be 1 in 5 in the next 3 years if we are to effectively address the 2024 projected shortfall.

There are myths to bust!

The increasingly globalized and competitive business environment, tight labour market and advances in knowledge and technology are creating new pressures for construction companies to innovate in order to differentiate, improve their reputation and attract the next generation of talent. Added pressure comes in the form of some deep-rooted myths around pursuing a career in the skilled trades that must be countered if the industry is to attract young talent in future. Those myths include:

Myth 1 – A career in construction is a “second best” choice compared to one that requires a university degree.

According to Skills Canada, only 1 in 10 jobs require a university degree. Furthermore, the industry offers a rewarding, well paid career for thousands of construction professionals – men and women – across the country. And if you’re worried about working conditions, don’t be fooled by the stock photo of the guy-with-hard-hat on site on a rainy day, wielding a hammer. While a cold, wet day on site is inevitable for some, our industry is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and reliant on technology to improve productivity and to stay competitive.

The opportunities to pursue a “clean” career path in construction, whether to operate state-of-the-art machinery or keep a multi-million dollar contract on track, are numerous. I encourage you to take a look at the Industry Training Authority’s 2015 Trades Guide that helps match an individual’s core qualities with the most appropriate skilled trade.

Myth #2 – The construction industry offers a limited career path.

The construction industry is multi-faceted with myriad opportunities for career advancement.

For example, an apprentice may pursue their chosen trade for life, or with a view to owning their own business, as early as their mid-30s. They may decide to switch direction and follow the project management route towards a senior management position. Or they may leverage their trade to travel the country or the world pursuing rewarding career opportunities along the way. This issue’s article on Paul Myers, owner of Keith Plumbing and Heating Co., is testament to how an apprentice, with vision and hard work, can move through the ranks with incredible success.

Myth #3 – A career in construction doesn’t pay well.

The average annual salary of a BC construction employee is $55,600. The average BC student debt after a 4-year degree is $35,000, and the highest in Canada.

The opportunity for a student to pursue an apprenticeship and “earn while they learn” and pay off any debt incurred during their post-secondary years, is attractive to many and, in fact, represents the path chosen by a number of our Under-40 Network members who proudly own their businesses and/or their homes today.

It’s time to reset

Today’s youth have an essential role to play in the future of the construction industry, not only to fill the projected labour shortage in 2024, but also to help the industry be technologically smart, innovative, productive and competitive in future.

We think it’s time to reach deep into the school system and to reset the dialogue with counselors, students and parents. In 2016, therefore, we plan to host roundtable discussions with counselors from several schools in the K-12 sector, to identify ways in which we can work together to promote construction as an attractive and viable career path. We will also continue to attend career fairs and information sessions hosted by various high schools across the Lower Mainland in order to have face-to-face discussions with students and parents about career opportunities in the industry. We will also continue to work closely with our post-secondary education partners to ensure that graduates are equipped to meet the various demands of today’s dynamic and competitive market place.

As a parent or a counselor, you’ll want your child or student to make the best possible career decision. I therefore urge you to ensure they have access to the industry facts. And the next time you see a girl-with-hard-hat on site on a rainy day, wielding a hammer, celebrate that she understands the opportunity in front of her and is leading the way!

Fiona Famulak
Vancouver Regional Construction Association