A looming labour shortage has led construction industry leaders to gather millions of dollars for scholarships to get more people into the industry.
Heads of SAIT, home builder Jayman Built and industry association BILD Alberta made the announcement of a scholarship fund of more than $7 million to help 1,400 students pursue training in construction on Tuesday.
Jay Westman, chief executive officer of Jayman Built, said the scholarships are to help shore up job vacancy rates that have been climbing “at an alarming rate” since the turn of the century, “making this the single biggest and most challenging problem the industry has ever faced.”
Westman said the decline in the number of tradespeople has tripled the build time for homes.
“In other words, we’re not building any more homes, it’s just taking longer,” Westman said.
Drawing on his more than four decades in home construction, Westman said recent increases in interest rates to below historic highs is likely to defer demand.
And he said construction materials like lumber have experienced supply chain shocks that have seen prices rise and fall, but labour availability has continued to worsen, driving up waits and wages.
The Jayman Built CEO said he worked with other construction and home building companies to gather funds for the scholarship, setting a new goal of $15 million, helping about 3,000 students of all backgrounds.
“(Through) the support and contributions I had already received, it was clear indication that this problem facing industry is entirely provincewide,” Westman said, issuing a challenge to other construction companies to donate to the scholarship. “We’re going to need everybody.”
SAIT president Dr. David Ross said the new construction scholarships will help students at his school and at NAIT, as well as for youth outreach in rural and urban high schools.
LISTEN: SAIT president Dr. David Ross speaks to Shaye Ganam, Oct. 20, 2022
Ross said with talk of a recession on the horizon, providing support for skilled trades training now could help the industry for years to come.
“There is a critical shortage across all trades in the province,” Ross told Global News. “And even if there is a recession, we believe the gap is such that we need to work very hard to make sure we build the support for more apprentices to enter the various industry sectors, including residential construction.”
At just less than 10 per cent of workers, the construction sector is the third-largest employer in the province.
Scott Fash, executive director of BILD ALberta, said last year residential construction accounted for over 120,000 jobs and $8.8 billion in wages. But he noted that one in five skilled labour workers are expected to retire before 2030.
“Skilled trades are a critical component in building affordable, safe and energy efficient homes in this province. They’re incredibly well-paying, rewarding careers, and we need to do a better job of promoting them and removing any roadblocks to entry,” Fash said.
A SAIT press release said tuition for apprentice and diploma programs in areas like carpentry, plumbing, sheet metal workers, electricians and glazers can surpass $5,000.