Saskatchewan Construction Association

50 years of building the workforce in Saskatchewan and beyond

saskBy Leah Kellar

On the cusp of the Saskatchewan Construction Association’s 50th anniversary, there are many achievements to celebrate in the making of a sustainable construction workforce within a competitive market.  The Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) is the strong provincial advocacy voice for the province’s dynamic construction industry, and it is critical to its success. SCA’s 1,300 member firms are involved in all aspects of the industry, including industrial, commercial, institutional and heavy construction, as well as the building of multi-unit residential complexes.

After 50 years, the organization has faced both tremendous growth in Saskatchewan and, at times, tremendous setbacks.  Since its founding in 1964, the SCA has served its members and the workforce at large through four strategic priorities: workforce development, communications, membership service and SCA operations while maintaining a clear vision and adhering to their mission statements. These founding priorities are outlined and updated in its new 2014-2019 Strategic Plan.

“We have local construction associations in the province, much like other provinces where major cities have construction offices that are 100 years old. Out of these associations grew a need for a provincial body to advocate on behalf of all the locals with respect to government and good policy to influence decision makers to build around infrastructure and to encourage owners to build in the province,” explained Doug Folk, Vice President of Industry Workforce Development for the SCA.

“The other important aspect concerns workforce development, which really came on board around 2005 to 2007. The industry workforce development piece came into play when the province started to boom in the industrial sector,” he said.

Folk has been working with the SCA for eight years after retiring from a 30-year career as a principal in various high schools and technical schools in the province. His involvement over the years in some of the workforce initiatives in apprenticeship and trades training programs led him to take a leadership position within the SCA.

Some of the strategies of the new plan are aimed directly at building the workforce and touch on a variety of areas: enhancing the perceived value of a career in construction, training more journeypersons, engaging underrepresented population segments, encouraging foreign recruitment, fostering interprovincial partnerships and building the industry’s training capacity.

The SCA also delivers various free programs and services, collaborates within the industry, advocates to government and provides the industry’s most effective public voice. The first pillar of labour market intelligence is crucial in determining where the industry has been and where it is going with respect to growth and development.

“In terms of intelligence of past data, we’d like to see what are the workforce trends and where the workers are coming from. This involves looking at segments of the population that we are trying to target to increase in the workforce, for example, aboriginals, women in trades, landed immigrants, new Canadians and the temporary foreign workers program and individuals coming from other provinces,” said Folk.

SCA has a statistician in the province who provides the company with regularly updated information in a document titled, “The Data Warehouse”, which is provided to SCA members.

“The second pillar of SCA’s work is promotion of careers in construction. Generally speaking, the role is to provide information, resources and encouragement to youth and young adults to assure them construction is a good career to be in,” Folk said. “We’re trying to remove the stereotype that if you’re not good in school, then you go into the trades because you’re not good academically.”

He explained that the SCA has worked very hard over the years to try to remove the inaccurate stereotype. “Trades require as much intelligence and academic wherewithal as university goers,” he added. Changing the outdated public perception involves working closely with high schools, administrators and counselors to promote an accurate view of the trades to those about to enter the workforce.

The third component of SCA’s mandate is programming and recruitment. The SCA delivers direct training programs based on the determined needs within the provincial market with some support from the federal and provincial government. SCA staff provide youth with in-class instruction on safety and essential workplace skills in entry-level trade jobs.

SCA staff sit on boards and work with most post-secondary training institutions in the province to attain current industry intelligence. “We really try to provide a strong connection between training institutes and what’s going on out in the field,” said Folk.

The fourth component is membership human resources support. The SCA is an association of approximately 1,300 members. Member companies vary in size from two-person shops to companies with 1,000 employees. The infrastructure around these various organizations differs from one company to the next. For example, of 7,735 non-residential construction companies in the province, only 338 of them have more than 20 employees.

“The vast majority have HR needs and supports and do not have extra staff. We try to give resources and supports in HR as required. In addition, for larger firms in the province we host semi-annual meetings for their human resource specialists,” he explained.

These meetings are held to discuss HR practices, policies and advocacy efforts to help companies meet the needs of their workforce. New technologies predominantly in the oil and gas industry have allowed for expansion in Saskatchewan. Innovation in the oil and gas sector, technology, mining and advances in agriculture in the province have allowed for growth in the construction and manufacturing industries, which in turn stimulates more growth in the service economy.

“It’s really a trickle-down effect of requirements for meeting the needs of the growing population. The work that we do is built to sustain and develop other industries in the province, so as those industries grow, then the demand for construction workers tends to increase,” said Folk. “But, if we don’t have a viable competitive construction industry and workforce, then we won’t continue to grow. For example, if it’s too expensive to build we will not attract new industries and construction in the province.”

Folk acknowledged that there is a skilled labour shortage in Saskatchewan’s construction industry, particularly in the compulsory worker category, such as a journeyperson.

“Another of the challenges we face is finding ways to provide and maintain work year-round at an affordable price, including the cost of providing adequate temporary heating in the winter,” he said.

Another solution lies in apprenticeship programs offered through schools and colleges that involve the First Nations population, new immigrants and women in industry.

“We have seen a growth of women in Saskatchewan’s construction workforce. Following the Second World War, it was only three percent and that number remained at three percent for the next 30 to 40 years in the province,” said Folk. “But in past five to 10 years, the number has grown to 10 percent of the work force, which is a growing sector of the trades employment programs, but still relatively low when 50 percent of the population are women.”

Unfortunately, Saskatchewan is the passing gateway for many skilled workers to the oil and gas industrial powerhouse of Alberta. That’s one reason why the SCA looks for workers in other provinces who are open to moving, often with families in tow, for financially sustainable, long-term opportunities in the construction trade.

Looking ahead to the future, Folk anticipates that the workforce and companies will be challenged by the involvement of new and emerging Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) in the province. “Right now we are working with our members to ensure that they are a part of those major projects,” Folk said.