How to (and How Not to) Solve the Labour Shortage

By Dana Taylor, MCABC Executive Vice President

Construction and manufacturing are increasingly coming together with the fabrication of customized mechanical system components happening more with advances in building modeling. This practice also works as a strategy to deal with the future skilled labour shortage.

For at least a decade and a half, business experts have been ringing alarm bells about the looming labour shortages to come while business owners have been wringing their hands and wondering what to do about it.

Solution lies with employers

From the perch of a construction trade association, I believe that despite all the conferences, government programs, focus on immigration, and, in some areas, incentives to have more children (Quebec), there is no silver bullet. I have observed that the most resourceful participants in the ‘Where will our workers come from?’ debate are the employers themselves.

We need to realize there’s only so much we can control in this equation. This is not to dismiss efforts to address this problem, but rather, to acknowledge that most government and institutional programs are at best, experiments. Rather than having government attempt to manage the problem, I think it’s more effective to have the private sector simply focus on running its business. To achieve optimal results, the most successful businesses continually examine their practices and plan what to do differently and better. I believe successful companies cultivate employee loyalty by offering professional development (training), work-life balance, prosperity incentives, and probably most importantly, continuous communication.

Training is key

The principle of training is that it’s better to pay the cost to improve employee productivity through training, than to endure productivity lost due to the absence of skills. Since society and industry have given the responsibility of training largely over to the government education machine, training in construction has become a big hairy beast. The reality is that employer participation is required at two levels – first, to ensure your workforce is adequately trained and second, to participate at various levels, including through your trade association to steer governments and institutions in a direction that is responsive to industry needs.

Staffing problems can’t be solved with poaching

Labour shortages will not be solved by poaching from your competitor, since that very act makes you vulnerable to the same experience. It’s unlikely that training programs that attempt to replace trending shortages of skills will work, since a rapidly changing economy could make those efforts redundant in an instant. Witness the LNG hype in BC that has yet to pan out. Nor will importing plane-loads of immigrant workers address all needs. Successful, long-term immigration relies on so much more than a pay cheque to enable a migrant to integrate into our society. Temporary foreign workers may provide a stop-gap solution in some industries, but it is unlikely to contribute much to fulfill employee requirements of local businesses.

You do your bit and we’ll do ours

Look to your trade association to help with the big issues where there’s proof of success to mobilize and motivate governments. Otherwise, do what you do best and look to yourselves for effective solutions.

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