The job crunch for construction workers has reached a tipping point, with many leaving for the labour market
In March, the country’s construction sector was experiencing its most severe downturn in decades.
While construction companies are still hiring, they are doing so at a slow pace, according to figures released this week by the Department of Employment and Social Development.
That means that more than 70,000 people have left the country in the past year, the highest annual rate in 25 years, and nearly half of them were in the construction industry.
“This year, we have seen the most significant job losses for construction since 2005, and we’ve seen it continue over the past few years,” said Michael O’Keefe, director of the Employment and Labour Research Institute at the University of Ottawa.
Construction workers have been forced to make the choice between making ends meet and saving money, and a lot of people are turning to the labour force.
“A lot of the construction workers that are in the industry, it’s just a matter of trying to make ends meet,” O’Reilly said.
“If they’re going to take the job, they’re not going to be able to find another one.”
A total of 8,944 construction workers were laid off in 2017, according the latest figures from the Department for Employment and Skills.
Construction is a vital job in Canada, but there are also plenty of other jobs available in the private sector.
According to Statistics Canada, construction accounted for over one-third of Canada’s gross domestic product in 2016, and in 2018 it was the third most popular job in the country.
It is a key industry for employers in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, where there are a number of large private construction companies.
There are also more than 20,000 construction jobs available across the country, according for example to Statistics Alberta, which tracks the numbers in the province.
O’ Reilly said the downturn in construction has hit people particularly hard.
“It’s hard to get work,” he said.
In fact, a quarter of the people working in the sector have found themselves unemployed in the last year, according O’Owen.
“The job market is so hard right now,” he added.
In 2016, the average wage in the public sector was $22,000, according Statistics Canada.
However, according a recent report by the B.C. Federation of Labour, that number fell to $15,600 for construction jobs.
The B.F.L. said in a statement that this trend was “likely linked to the construction boom, which has led to a decline in the number of public-sector jobs in B.S. because of automation and outsourcing.”
Construction workers are now being required to work for as little as $1.25 an hour, or about $8.10 an hour less than they were in 2010, according Toews.
Construction was the fastest-growing sector of the economy in the 2016-17 financial year, and was expected to add 1.3 per cent to the country as of 2017-18.
However the job crunch has been especially intense in the Alberta province, where a new law passed in March requires that every construction worker in the provincial government must have a minimum salary of $25,000.
Construction also accounts for less than 2 per cent of total jobs in the B,C and NT.
“We’re still in a period of hiring,” Obeys said.
That’s not good news for people looking for work in other parts of the country and even some provinces.
The Alberta government recently announced that it would no longer require any new construction workers to be certified as engineers, a move that would have saved $2 million a year.
Obey said the construction sector has been hit hard by the downturn.
“There’s a lot more of a shortage of skilled construction workers than the public-private sector,” he explained.
The labour market is also hurting people with disabilities, who are now required to be physically fit to work.
Obeyes said that’s especially true for people with a disability, which is why he’s advocating for the creation of an Employment Accessibility Unit.
“People who are disabled are not allowed to be in the labour marketplace.
We’re still dealing with a labour shortage,” he argued.
“As far as disabilities go, it just doesn’t make sense to have the disability, it doesn’t allow for people to be considered a worker.”
In 2016-2017, the Alberta government added more than 30,000 new jobs, but the job losses are still far higher than the numbers would suggest.
“You’ve got people out there in Alberta, like my wife and I, who have had to make difficult choices,” said Obezies.
“Some of them have to find a new job.”
With files from The Canadian Press and The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.