London News & Search
The London area may be heading for a record year for housing starts, but finding workers to build all those homes is becoming a big concern.
Attracting more young people into the skilled trades has been a problem for years. Now it’s become more acute, with almost 2,000 housing starts in London-St. Thomas in the first half of the year. That’s already more than the annual total in 2014, just three years ago.
Peder Madsen, president of the London Home Builders’ Association, said labour supply is becoming a bottleneck in the construction market that could put a lid on potential growth.
“It’s interesting to see the demand on the skilled trades. As a business owner, I wish people saw this coming ahead of time so we didn’t have this problem,” said Madsen, co-owner of CCR Building and Remodeling and a carpenter by trade.
Madsen said he was looking for more staff and tapped Jim Leslie, head of the carpentry-apprentice program at Fanshawe College.
“He said I was one of a few dozen people that have been asking him about carpenters, but everyone’s got work. Everyone is busy.”
The city will lose out on potential growth if housing projects don’t move ahead, Madsen said.
“If you don’t have a service-ready lot ready to go, then you lose the trades people. They move on to another city that has the work available.”
That’s also a concern for Jim MacKinnon, business manager of Local 1059 of the Labourers’ International Union of North America. He said the housing boom is long overdue, because London has been “the hole in the doughnut” of Southwestern Ontario for some time, lagging behind the growth rate of other municipalities.
The fact that it has taken London 11 years to regain housing-start levels seen back in 2006 shows the city’s growth rate has been struggling, MacKinnon said.
Along with the shortage of skilled labour, a lack of serviced single-family residential lots in London has driven up prices and restricted supply, he said.
Some builders have shifted to buying lots in municipalities surrounding the city, MacKinnon said: “They have no product for their clients and they need the work for their employees. Otherwise they lose them, and in this economy, you don’t get them back.”
MacKinnon said skilled tradespeople are in demand and his union is taking steps to expand training programs. He said the limited number of apprentice spots available and the time it takes to fully train apprentices means there isn’t a quick fix to the shortage.
Madsen has been promoting construction careers at high schools for the past four years.
The blue-collar image of skilled trades still seems to be a barrier for students and parents.
“The interest is still less than I ever would have thought. I’m surprised how few kids who think the trades are a good option. It starts with the public school. It starts with the parents.”
Ryan Alary, campus director at North American Trades School on Highbury Avenue, said finding jobs for graduates from the school’s construction courses is not a problem. However, boosting enrolment to meet the demand still depends on a growing pool of applicants.
He agrees an image problem is limiting the number of young people entering the construction trades.
Vertha Coligan, dean of the faculty of technology at Fanshawe College, said graduates from the construction trades program are in high demand and the college has created new programs, such as project management and renovation technology.
“We are riding a wave. Applicants are learning that construction careers can be lucrative and fulfilling.”
But despite the good job prospects for the construction trades, not all of the classes for September are full, Coligan said.
Fanshawe is working hard to reach out to younger students to promote the skilled trades as good careers by holding technology summer camps for girls and boys in Grades 5 to 8, as well as skilled-trade career days for high-school students, she said.
London News & Search