Journal of Commerce | Evan Saunders | January 25, 2023
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association’s (ICBA) annual Wage and Benefits Survey is hitting home the message that B.C. employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill the growing labour void.
According to the survey, 80 per cent of employers said they cannot find enough workers and nearly 60 per cent said they are turning down work due to a lack of labour.
The answer to this problem may lie in Silicon Valley and immigration policy, said ICBA president Chris Gardner.
The acute labour pains being felt across the construction industry are driven by two key demographic issues: large swathes of workers retiring and a faltering population gain, Gardner explained.
“Last year, 2022, was the first year we can find when more people died in British Columbia than were born,” he said.
“That means, absent immigration, British Columbia’s population is flatlining.”
According to data recently released by Statistics Canada, there were 45,380 deaths in the province last year and only 42,783 births. But the population did grow thanks to more than 82,000 immigrants arriving.
The slowing population growth’s effect on the workforce is exasperated by an aging demographic.
“People are starting to retire, so that you’ve got those dual pressures and that’s a concern,” Gardner said.
The survey also revealed historic wage increases may be on the horizon and that more than half of the companies expected to be receiving more work in 2023 than in 2022.
Other top challenges cited included supply chain issues (58 per cent), profitability (36 per cent), employee retention (42 per cent) and length of time to get a project approval (27 per cent).
In order to deal with supply chain issues 82 per cent stated they are delaying project completion dates, 62 per cent said they are increasing prices and 24 per cent were turning down work.
But the issue of labour remained the most prominent thread throughout the results.
“There’s only two ways we are going to get through this,” said Gardner. “The first way is with technology.
“There is more technology being adopted in the construction sector, specifically, than there ever has been. That is a trend that you are going to see accelerate.”
As the Industrial Revolution was the harbinger of the modern age, introducing technological efficiency and mass production to the world, so might industrial technology’s inherent benefits push us past our current frustrations.
“In terms of providing efficiencies and productivity and doing more with less people you’re going to see this wave, this natural pull towards the adoption of technology,” said Gardner.
The other answer to the labour deficit across the country relates to Gardner’s concern around the faltering replacement rate in B.C.
“Our long-term prosperity is definitely linked to immigration,” he said.
But opening the doors for expanded immigration is not helpful if an immigrant’s skills and expertise are undermined by poor policy.
“What all three levels of government have to do is set the conditions to ensure that when immigrants come to Canada they are set up for success,” Gardner said.
“Because, to the extent that they are successful, our economy will benefit and we’re all going to be successful.”
One issue Gardner said governments should focus on is recognizing international credentials faster, something the Journal of Commerce recently spoke with B.C.’s Minister of State for Workforce Development Andrew Mercier about.
“There are lots of countries that credential their citizens at our level or better. So, let’s understand that,” Gardner said, adding there’s no reason upgrading skill gaps should be a lengthy process.
“We’ve been doing this for decades. Let’s have a program they can easily get into, upgrade their credentials and they’re off to the races.”
Some construction companies are struggling to find licensed, skilled trade workers.
“In B.C. it takes you eight to 10 years, effectively, to get a Red Seal designation in the construction trades. We don’t have enough training spaces and we don’t have enough instructors,” he said.
Gardner said more training seats need to be added alongside new training locations in various areas of the province. Long wait times for Red Seal apprenticeship training drives low completion rates in the province.
This, combined with high wages and an overflow of work opportunities, means many trade workers lack incentive to finish their training, he said.
It seems for the foreseeable future the labour deficit is here to stay.
“The shortage of people in our economy and in construction has been the number one issue in our survey for the last 10 years. It’s not going to correct itself.”
Follow the author on Twitter @JOC_Evan.