Worker shortage in Calgary construction industry threatens delays, price increases

via CBC News

Thousands of vacant construction jobs in the city, says industry insider.

A digger moves across a dirt patch of a construction site.
Several factors, including an aging workforce, have contributed to the shortage of construction workers, experts say. (Tom Ross/CBC)

While Calgary’s housing crisis could be remedied by building more homes, those in the construction industry are cautioning that there might not be enough hands available to get the job done.

An ongoing and severe skilled-labour shortage in the city, combined with increased development pressure to build much-needed homes and apartments, could lead to construction delays and home-price increases, industry experts are warning.

There are already thousands of vacant construction jobs in the city, according to Frano Cavar, director of government relations at the Calgary Construction Association.

“Last week, city council had a very important conversation about housing affordability,” said Cavar.

“Our message is, what happens when you don’t have the workers to fill your housing needs? Prices increase and projects become delayed.”

Cavar said that while the labour shortage the city is currently experiencing isn’t a new phenomenon, several factors have contributed to the current crunch.

These include a spike in the number of people moving to the city, an aging workforce and a drop in enrolments in the construction trades during COVID-19.

“This isn’t a problem that just came overnight, this is a problem over the last two, three decades, and our message is if there isn’t any action on the labour shortage, we worry it will certainly impact housing affordability,” said Cavar.

On Sept. 17, Calgary city council voted in favour of a new housing strategy that’s intended to help the city move toward increasing the supply of market and non-market housing in order to meet demand and improve affordability.

The plan includes an incentive program to create new secondary suites, plans to dispose of city land for new housing units and adopting new zoning rules to allow row houses and duplexes anywhere in the city.

Malcolm Johnson, a framer, said he’s noticed an increase in the number of available construction jobs in Calgary and added that his boss is struggling to find the right people to hire.

“There are timelines, we have to get stuff done by certain times,” said Johnson. “There is a little bit of pressure, not too much that we can’t handle it though.”

SAIT’s dean of apprenticeship, Jim Szautner, said a recent “tremendous surge” in apprenticeship enrollments is a positive sign for the industry.

“What we’ve seen is a 40 per cent growth in new registrations in apprenticeship. So there’s been an increase in the pipeline of people coming into the trade.”

Szautner added that he has seen more first-year apprentices being hired on to jobs, an indication of the current needs of the workforce.

In addition to attracting young people to join the trades, Cavar said matching skilled immigrants with jobs that currently exist in Calgary could also help alleviate shortages in the short term.

Article by Lena Hogarth
September 28, 2023

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