What trades students have to say about working in construction on P.E.I.

A panel of three trades students discusses opportunities on and off the Island.

Keeping trades graduates on the Island is a key to filling job vacancies

The worker shortage in the construction industry has grown worse in the last year. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The Construction Association of P.E.I. estimates the industry on the Island is short 1,000 workers.

A number of theories have been put forward to explain that shortage: low pay relative to other parts of the country, an aging demographic, the rigours of the job when so many opportunities to work from home are opening up, the province's low retention rate for immigrants.

One of the keys to filling those jobs and keeping them filled is making sure trades students at Holland College stay on P.E.I. after they graduate.

CBC P.E.I. got together a panel of three trades students from Holland College to hear their opinions.

Emily Elliott and Inderdeep Singh are carpentry students, and Egan McCaughey is in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning program.

Here is that conversation, edited for length.

Why did you want to get into trades? 

Emily Elliott

I first got really interested this last year. I was visiting family and friends, and I was noticing across the Island that there was a real shortage of workers that they could get to do renovations on their homes. Lots of people had projects that they really desperately needed to get done, like roofs that needed to be repaired. And yeah, they just couldn't find anybody to do it for them, or if they could find a company that could potentially come see their home, they were very aware that it could take a year or two years before any real progress was made. I was really kind of interested in coming into the field and maybe helping with that.

Emily Elliott training in the use of a safety harness at Holland College. (Submitted by Emily Elliott)

Inderdeep Singh

I was doing a bit of a helping hand with my uncle, he does renovations and stuff in Ontario, so that's what caught my interest. I have a little painting business, like doing residential and commercial. I just wanted to have an add on just to learn how carpentry works.

Egan McCaughey

It's kind of like Inder said there. I started out work in the summer in the trades with a family friend. And my whole family kind of comes from trades as well. So I've seen a lot of benefits to working in it. Pay being a very good one, not spending a lot of time in school was a big factor for me. I didn't want to be spending too much time in school. I just kind of wanted to get to work. 

Since you started in your program, has your view of the job market changed at all?

Emily Elliott

There seems to be a lot of people going into the trades right now, which is lovely. I have started to look into some options across Canada. I think in the first few years of my apprenticeship, I might kind of travel a little bit, but I think long term I'd like to work here on the Island.

Inderdeep Singh

There's a lot of construction going on. All the trades are in big need and I've heard it around, like, there's a shortage of carpenters. I'm planning to be part time in carpentry because I just want to continue with my business, like painting business, which I want to do full time. But I'm planning to be on the Island.

Inderdeep Singh enjoys some winter weather at at Mooneys Pond in Montague. (Submitted by Inderdeep Singh)

Egan McCaughey

I intend to stay on the Island for sure. There's lots of work here, and there's lots of companies always looking for guys, you know, good companies, too, that seem to be very good to the workers, you hear. As soon as I got into the class, I heard nonstop about people emailing my teacher, looking for students for [on-the-job training] and looking for them to come onto the job after they graduate. So I know there's no shortage of work here on P.E.I., for sure. So it looks good.

There's been some talk about pay being a factor in the shortage of workers on the Island and particularly the pay for people who have qualifications. Does that concern you at all?

Egan McCaughey

I don't find it concerning, you know, you can always advance yourself through the block programs, you know, first block, second, third, fourth and then eventually your Red Seal. If you are looking for more money, it's as simple as going to pass your block and advancing your career. So I don't think there's really much of a pay struggle if you really work for it.

Egan McCaughey doing cleaning and maintenance work on a boiler. (Submitted by Egan McCaughey)

Inderdeep Singh

I think pay is really competitive and it's even good. You can go from basic pay to a good dollar an hour, and so I'm pretty sure it's something you could work on 

Emily Elliott

As the other guys were saying, like, it seems there's a really amazing opportunity for growth every year as you progress through the block exams and then just increase your experience and increase the wage that you're earning. I think the Island is an amazing place to be for any wage. 

But you are thinking about starting your career off-Island. What led you to make that choice? 

Emily Elliott

Mostly just because of the differences in wages in your first couple of years. And there's a couple of really cool businesses out West that will have nice benefits, and will fly you to the Island back and forth to see your family. And then working kind of in a lodge with your team, which I like that kind of almost summer camp experience, really team oriented. And so that's something that I'm considering and something that's definitely drawn my attention. 

What are you hearing from your classmates about staying and working on P.E.I.?

Inderdeep Singh

Everybody is interested to work on the Island. It's competitive wages as well here now as compared to a couple of years back.

Egan McCaughey

I've got a very small class. We only have a class of seven guys, but half of them are from here and half from off-Island. But from what everyone says, there's nothing more that they're excited for than to get into the work field, whether they stay here or go back home. But being here and seeing all the job opportunities, I've heard from a few of them that they say it's very appealing to stay on the Island.

Emily Elliott

Pretty much the same thing that Inderdeep was saying. Just that everyone's really excited to work here on the Island and that there's plenty of opportunities all across the province. Like, there's going to be no problem finding work, so everyone is pretty excited to get going here.


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