Students urged to go into trades as industry faces labour shortage

As students return to school, an employment shortage has Ottawa's skilled labour industry encouraging them to consider the trades as a career path. 

Retirements, hot housing market leading to lack of skilled workers

The homebuilding industry has been sounding the alarm for the last decade about a shortage of skilled tradespeople, and with the market remaining hot during the COVID-19 pandemic that demand hasn't abated. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

As students return to school, an employment shortage has Ottawa's skilled labour industry encouraging them to consider the trades as a career path. 

Many tradespeople are hitting retirement age, industry experts say, and there aren't enough young people signing up to fill those jobs.

"We're feeling the effects now from an entire generation or two, you know, not going into the trades in the numbers that we needed them to," said Jason Burggraaf, executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association.

The industry has been sounding the alarm bells for the last decade, Burggraaf said, and with the housing market remaining hot during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for labour hasn't abated.

He said the issue is especially clear when builders subcontract out certain jobs like framing or roofing, and the companies doing those jobs are also short on workers. 

"You can't necessarily rely on the long-standing relationships you have with some companies, because they just don't have the manpower," Burggraaf said.

It's an issue being felt across different trade sectors, and it's delaying the timelines of some projects. 

Buildforce Canada, an organization that tracks labour market information, estimates that by the end of the decade the industry will need to hire, train, and retain more than 116,000 additional workers to keep pace with expected demand growth and retirements.

Ottawa will need to see at least 800 new workers a year enter the industry, Burggraaf said, something he doesn't believe will happen.

Adam Melnick, program director with the Unionized Building and Construction Trades Council of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, says while the industry is in need of more workers, it needs to be clear about where it needs them — and not oversaturate certain sectors.

"The amount of construction that we're forecasting five years from now, it's wonderful it if stays exactly the way it is. But it could become more or it could become less," Melnick said.

Certain trades are more popular or more in demand in parts of the province than others, said Melnick, which can make people think the scope of opportunities is smaller than it actually is.

Ultimately, the industry needs to start appealing to younger generations about a career in the trades, and then provide them with the necessary support to become apprentices, Melnick said.

"It's certainly a new environment for a lot of people when they pursue a career in construction or apprenticeship," Melnick said. "Most cases, they don't have a lot of exposure to it, and they probably certainly haven't done work similar to it. So it tends to be a whole new world."


Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. Previously she worked as a senior writer and associate producer for CBC News Network. She can be reached at and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.