B.C. skilled trade shortage continues in COVID-19 work slump

Interior, North, Island contractors look for busier 2021

Even with construction activity down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-demand construction trades are expected to see wages increase by an average 7.7 per cent over the next two years, according to a new survey of B.C. construction employers.

A survey of 1,000 construction companies across B.C. found that every single steel fabricating, glazing and insulating company reported they needed more trades people, followed by 94 per cent of firms employing mobile crane operators, 92 per cent for roofers and 91 per cent for pipefitters.

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“It seems counter-intuitive to expect wages to jump 7.7 per cent over the next two years at the same time employers are planning for less construction work, but that is how tight the B.C. labour market has become,” said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, which conducts its wage and benefits survey annually.

“British Columbia is going over a demographic cliff, with a workforce that is rapidly aging out. There is incredible opportunity in construction for young people, entrepreneurs and skilled trades workers.”

Big energy projects LNG Canada, the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C Dam have kept B.C. construction going through the pandemic. The province did not join other provinces in shutting down large building construction due to risk of COVID-19 transmission. But even with that, the B.C. finance ministry’s latest quarterly report found the largest job loss between February and November 2020 was in construction.

“We are far off what used to be the norm of more than half of all construction contractors expecting more work in the coming year,” Gardner said.

“The percentage of contractors who foresee a decline in business in 2021 is almost twice as large as last year. While the North and Vancouver Island remain relatively optimistic, the Lower Mainland and rest of B.C. are very nervous.”

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