Trades shortage could limit construction boom

Construction is up across Nova Scotia, but it's hard to find skilled tradespeople.
The lack of skilled trades workers could put a cap on the construction boom in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

With more than two dozen cranes jutting into the Halifax skyline, the city is in the midst of a commercial building spree.

The Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard is in the midst of expanding as well, and more waterfront developments are expected over the next few years. But there is a problem looming: construction companies are already having difficulty finding qualified workers.

Building permits are up nearly 50 per cent over last summer in metro, and 42 per cent across the province. Brendan Nobes, head of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, says big projects like the new central library are increasing the competition for skilled labour.

"In the skilled trades, there is a definite shortage," he said. "There have been issues with electricians and plumbers, if we look around at the sites today. The only thing holding us back is getting the trades to the site."

The shortage is not for lack of money. A certified journeyman earns between $70,000 and $100,000 a year.

One bottleneck is the rules around apprenticeships. Although trainees receive half salary, it takes at least four years for them to get their papers.

"For every single journeyman, you can have one or two apprentices. That's a bit of a stumbling block to get those seasoned people in place, to help mentor," said Nobes.

The province is considering changes to apprenticeship training. Meanwhile, the construction association is trying to reach out to more people, including at-risk youth, to get them to consider the trades as a future career.