Getting The Job Done
By Anna Guy
A thriving construction industry is the cornerstone to a thriving economy. An understanding of economic role that unions and trained works can has made the Manitoba Building Trades (MTB) a vital component of the economy of Manitoba, and the country.
MBT represents more than 8,000 construction and trades professionals in 13 member-unions. From mega projects to smart planning tools, MBT works partnership with other provincial councils and is part of a network of over 500,000 Canadian construction professionals. Through the promotion of the interests of its member unions and engagement in project partnerships, MBT trained safe, skilled and highly productive labour since its inception in 1909.
Manitoba currently represents 3.2 percent of Canada’s population yet 8.4 per cent of its large-scale industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) projects. Manitoba’s construction industry is not unlike any other industry when it comes to facing a pending demographic shift as baby boomers leave the workforce.
With a significant percentage of the work force expected to retire within the next decade, synchronizing the replacement of experienced workers and managing the inflow of new workers is going to be a challenge,” says MBT CEO, Sudhir Sandhu.
Critical issues are maintaining a skilled workforce in an industry that requires some classroom education (20 per cent) and in-the-field training (80 per cent). If timing aligns perfectly, one can become a journeyperson in four years. More realistically, says Sandhu, this can take up to seven years, something the MBT is taking strides to reduce.
“One of our primary priorities is to very heavily recruit and promote skilled trades careers to non-traditional participants,” says Sandhu. “We cannot rely on less than 50 per cent of the population to solve 100 per cent of our workforce requirements. We have an emphasise focusing recruiting efforts on new Canadians, Indigenous communities, and women in skilled trades.”
Recruitment strategies are designed specifically to address barriers present in one group or another, says Sandhu. Specifically, MBT is working actively with Indigenous organizations to close that gap between training and work, and ensuring a continuous group of work opportunities followed by classroom training. For new Canadians, language proficiency can be a significant barrier.
Woman, specifically, represent 4 to 8 per cent of the national construction work force, and those numbers are reflected in Manitoba. In December 2016, Manitoba became the fourth Canadian Province to launch Build Together, which is a national initiative of Canada’s Building Trades Union to promote diversity and inclusion in the construction industry. Build Together is an initiative by skilled trades women to promote trades careers and to mentor and support women entering the industry.
Putting Economic Stimulus to Work
“Manitoba is busy,” says Sandhu. “MBT works with a unionized network, so we welcome unionized members in other jurisdictions can contact their unions for information about work opportunities in Manitoba.”
Canada’s infrastructure development will require Canadian skilled work force. Sandhu cautions project managers about the potential bottle necks the lack of skilled workers can create. “You can announce multi-billion-dollar projects, but without the people to implement them, you can experience significant cost and schedule overruns,” says Sandhu.
“Part of the programming is to stimulate economic growth and create employment,” he continues. “Typically, we tend to over-rely on temporary foreign workers to fill skilled workforce gaps, which means Canadian infrastructure dollars are being repatriated outside of Canada, which defeats the purpose. Construction has one of the highest multiplier effects, and we need to leverage those Canadian dollars to grow the Canadian economy. We want to emphasise this point at a provincial and national level and to focus on work force development in the next couple of years.”