City of Penticton hosts job fair for laid-off modular construction workers

Barry Woods handed out resumes at a city-sanctioned job fair on Tuesday after losing his job in the modular construction industry five days ago.

“I sort of the saw the writing on the wall,” he told Global News at the event.

Woods said he was caught up in the second round of layoffs at Metric Modular’s Penticton, B.C., plant.

“I think we are down to 14 people there at the shop and there was 135 people there in total,” he said.

Penticton company rebounds on the back of growing modular home market
Penticton company rebounds on the back of growing modular home market

The significant job losses at the modular home manufacturer occurred within the past three months, according to Woods, as demand looks to be weakening for pre-fabricated homes.

“They had mentioned that the housing market was taking a dive,” he said.

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Global News reached out to Metric Modular on Tuesday, but the company did not make anyone available for an interview.

In November 2017, a press release stated that Lethbridge-based company Triple M Housing expanded its business to B.C., and that the homes would be built in Metric Modular’s Penticton modular construction facility on Government Street, formerly known as Britco Construction.

READ MORE: Motion passed that could allow modular housing in most Vancouver neighbourhoods

It said the focus at the Penticton facility was building homes for Triple M Housing.

Moduline Industries in Penticton also faced significant layoffs this year. The business did not return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the City of Penticton’s economic development department teamed up with WorkBC to host a job fair for the laid-off workers on Tuesday.

Economic development specialist Andrew Kemp said a representative with Metric Modular told him a drop in orders is responsible for the job losses.

Penticton’s mayor calls for more onsite treatment options at province’s new homeless housing projects
Penticton’s mayor calls for more onsite treatment options at province’s new homeless housing projects

“I know it has been quite significant,” he said of the layoffs. “There was a layoff in August and this is the second round of layoffs now in the fall.”

“We’re thankful the city is helping us during this challenging time,” Metric Modular’s president Stephen Branch said in a statement issued by the city. 

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“We want to support our employees in finding new opportunities in the community.”

B.C.’s prefabricated housing sector got a shot in the arm last year when the NDP government committed $291 million to building 2,000 modular units of housing, mostly to house people experiencing homelessness.

READ MORE: Vancouver councillor seeks modular housing in residential neighbourhoods

A 62-unit modular building, constructed by Metric Modular, recently opened to house the homeless in Penticton. Now that the BC Housing projects are nearing completion or are already completed, the contracts are drying up.

“They really outlined that there is a significant decrease in orders; we could argue that might be in relation to oil-sands workers and BC Housing projects, but I don’t have a specific reason for that,” Kemp said.

According to the city’s job listings website, there are 268 job vacancies in the Penticton area, but only 16 jobs are available in the technical, trades and manufacturing industries.

“The highest employers are in the healthcare sector that’s looking for opportunities but manufacturing is constantly looking for employees and we are seeing that here today with the number of people looking for work,” Kemp said.

Kemp added that the local manufacturing industry is key to the success of the local economy.

READ MORE: Abbotsford unveils new modular housing unit for vulnerable women

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“Because they do help dispel that seasonality challenge and those are people who are living in Penticton year-round,” he said.

As for laborers like Woods, he said “I’m hoping to find myself a good placement in something where I can utilize my ticket. I’m a journeyman plumber.”

But Woods hopes it’s not the end of the line for him in modular construction if work picks back up again in the spring.