PEI

P.E.I. builders struggling to fill construction jobs

There are currently more than 500 job openings in P.E.I.’s construction industry, and with an aging workforce, employers expect it will continue to be difficult to fill vacant positions.

Worker shortage slowing down industry growth

Construction investment on P.E.I. continues to grow, even through the pandemic. (Submitted by Sam Sanderson)

There are currently more than 500 job openings in P.E.I.'s construction industry, and with an aging workforce employers expect it will continue to be difficult to fill vacant positions.

While the construction industry struggled across the country during the pandemic, on P.E.I. it scarcely missed a beat, even after years of strong growth. From January to May, construction investment was up almost 10 per cent over 2019. In three months this year, investment has topped $70 million, seasonally adjusted — a rate it never hit in previous years.

Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of P.E.I., said the kind of growth the industry has seen tends to be self-sustaining.

"When investors are seeing that kind of growth — steady growth and opportunity, you know — they want to be part of it," said Sanderson.

Meanwhile, the industry is struggling to keep up.

Lucas Arsenault, vice-president of Arsenault Bros Construction, said the difficulty with finding employees is affecting his company's ability to grow.

"You have to pick and choose what you're bidding and what you take on," said Arsenault.

"You never want to say no but sometimes you just have to. People have to wait."

Looking for a new generation

With 1,500 retirements expected in the next 10 years, there is a potential for the problem to get worse.

Both Sanderson and Arsenault said the industry needs to work with governments and schools to let people know about the potential for a career in construction.

"We need to educate people a little bit more about the opportunities that are out there. Not everybody realizes the great opportunities in construction," said Sanderson.

P.E.I. needs to address both short- and long-term shortages in construction workers, says Lucas Arsenault. (Submitted by Lucas Arsenault)

There are many ways to get started in the industry, he said. You can learn on the job, starting as a general labourer; there are courses available at Holland College; and the construction association runs programs.

The association also has an HR consultant on staff who can help Islanders find a way into the industry.

Getting more young Islanders into the industry is an important long-term goal, said Arsenault, but he added the need is also immediate. He said P.E.I. needs to start looking for ways to attract experienced workers to the province from other parts of the world.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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