Toronto

Ontario contractors say shortage of skilled labour slowing growth of companies

A skilled labour shortage in Ontario in the past three years has slowed the growth of construction companies, prompting some to turn down work and others to decline to bid on projects, according to a survey of contractors at non-residential sites.

Some turning down work, others declining to bid, says report on non-residential sector

Construction workers erect safety fencing on a condo project in downtown Toronto. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A skilled labour shortage in Ontario in the past three years has slowed the growth of construction companies, prompting some to turn down work and others to decline to bid on projects, according to a survey of contractors at non-residential sites.

The 2019 Contractor Survey, by the Ontario Construction Secretariat, looked at perceived skilled labour shortages in the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector in Ontario.

A total of 500 contractors in this sector were interviewed by phone in the first two months of this year. They oversee workers who build everything from roads and bridges to schools and hospitals.

"It's very busy right now," Katherine Jacobs, director of research at the secretariat, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday. "We're also experiencing a large number of retirements with the baby boomers retiring and moving on out of the industry."

Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor are the busiest areas, she added.

Katherine Jacobs, director of research at the secretariat, says contractors who can't find the workers they need with the right skills at the right time can bring in workers from other regions or other provinces. (Supplied)

In Ontario in the next 10 years, about 91,000 construction workers are expected to retire, 40,000 of whom are in the Greater Toronto Area, she said.

Opportunity exists in many trades

"That's a lot of workers that we need to make up for and to try to find and fill that void. That's really what's driving the challenges right now to get skilled workers to sites." 

Contractors in Ontario are in for a busier year, according to a report from the Ontario Construction Secretariat. But the majority of contractors say they are dealing with a skilled worker shortage and 2019 might be even worse. Katherine Jacobs, director of research at the Ontario Construction Secretariat, weighs in. 6:27

Jacobs defined a shortage as a a challenge faced by contractors when they cannot get the workers they need with the right skills at the right time. The secretariat represents unionized construction industry workers.

She said the province needs a range of tradespeople, including boilermakers, carpenters, crane operators, electricians, ironworkers, labourers, millwrights, pipe-fitters, welders as well as managers and supervisors.

"There's a lot of opportunity for work in those trades," she said.

"They have some techniques they can use. They can bring workers in from other regions of the province or from other provinces to work on these projects to try to fill the demand."

A new report by the Ontario Construction Secretariat, which looked at perceived skilled labour shortages in the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector, says contractors are feeling the pressure to find skilled workers. (Ron DeVries)

According to the survey, 69 per cent of contractors in Ontario expect to have difficulty finding skilled workers to complete non-residential projects in the province this year compared to last year, while 62 per cent say they have experienced a shortage of skilled labour in the sector in the past three years.

"Contractors are feeling a bit of pressure," she said.

Shortages costing money, causing project delays

Contractors who had experienced skilled labour shortages in the past three years were asked more questions to enable the secretariat to learn how the shortages had affected their companies.

The survey found:

  • 79 per cent said the growth of their company had slowed.
  • 76 per cent said their companies turned down work.
  • 69 per cent said they declined to bid on projects for which they normally would have competed.
  • 70 per cent said they had resorted to using less qualified labour.

According to the report, the contractors identified other impacts as well. The survey found:

  • 59 per cent said the shortages led to significant increases in project costs.
  • 57 per cent said the shortages caused significant delays in completing projects.
  • 56 per cent said the shortages delayed the start of projects.
  • 55 per cent said the shortages made them less competitive and contributed to their companies losing market share.

As for solutions, the contractors said the solutions that they were most likely to adopt include deploying workers more efficiently, using new technologies, hiring more apprentices, and raising wages. 
 

Contractors were asked to rate potential solutions to the shortages. Solutions most likely to be adopted by the contractors include: deploying workers more efficiently; using new technologies; hiring more apprentices; and raising wages. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The survey was designed to gauge the expectations of contractors for their businesses and the industry as a whole in 2019. The margin of error for a sample of 500 is +/–4.38 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Seventy per cent of the contractors surveyed were trade contractors, while 26 per cent were general contractors. 

With files from Metro Morning