Ontario is facing a construction labour shortage, and for construction students at London’s Fanshawe College, the high demand has created a student-focused job market.
Associate dean of the Donald J Smith School of Building Technology at Fanshawe College, Steve Crema, said the construction industry currently has a low unemployment rate, meaning students entering the workforce have multiple options when they leave school.
Last year Fanshawe’s construction engineering program had 45 students eligible for a work placement, Crema said, and when it came time for them to choose a co-op, there were around 200 companies looking to hire.
“We needed 200 students, and we were only providing 45. So that meant every student had between four and five positions that they could choose from,” he said.
“The supply of students is a lot lower than the demand for jobs, so the availability of positions out there is very high. So it really is a student-centric environment right now.”
But the high labour demand also means instructors are harder to come by with high-paying opportunities in their fields.
Crema said Fanshawe has had to adapt.
“There is significant demand in all industries, but especially construction, design, civil engineering and all the trades groups,” he said.
“There are fewer people out there with available time to come and teach for us in the same way as we have been doing it historically.”
Crema said the college has become more flexible with their building technology instructor’s schedules, allowing them to fit teaching around their industry jobs.
But as far as problems go, he said this is a good one to have.
“We never hope for the unemployment rate to increase just so people are available for teaching.”
London has plans for over 18,500 new building projects
Part of the building boom comes from Ontario’s More Homes Built Faster Act, which aims to build 1.5 million homes in the next decade. The province estimates it will need 100,000 more workers across Ontario to reach that goal.
Earlier this month London city council pledged to build 47,000 new homes, including medium and high-density condo buildings, in the next decade. Currently, the city has over 18,500 new home building projects approved.
But Crema said building thousands of new homes also means building stores, schools, arenas and other community infrastructure.
The demand has created more jobs than there are new workers, but Mike Carter, chief executive officer of the London and District Construction Association (LDCA), said there are no quick fixes to a spike in trades demands.
For example, Carter said it takes around six years to become a plumber.
“You just can’t click your heels [like] Dorothy three times and get back to Kansas where you want to be. It doesn’t happen that fast. It takes a long period of time, but demand can jump very quickly.”
Trades enrolment stable but low
The number of construction and trades students has remained stable in the past six years, Crema said, according to data his department received from Ontario College Application Service (OCAS).
Carter said low numbers of women entering construction and the trades make the pool of workers smaller to choose from.
“We only attract 50% of the population to begin with,” he said, adding that he has noticed fewer young people interested in entering the trades in general.
Crema said Fanshawe offers female trades students scholarships and one-on-one assistance to get them interested in entering the industry, but said the numbers are still relatively low.
“The further we get away from the on-site and tools in your hand kind of work, the greater percentage of female students we see in those programs,” Crema said.
Fanshawe’s apprenticeship programs, like carpentry, electrical work and plumbing, have around five per cent female students, he said.
Carter said he hopes more people will enter the trades with the rising demand.
“You make a very good wage if you’re a tradesperson,” he said.
“We do need an awful lot more people.”