Construction trades ‘skills gap’ stymies zero carbon building: CaGBC

A new report by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) provides an action plan to close the low-carbon building skills gap in the Ontario construction industry. With buildings accounting for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, addressing the current gap in low-carbon building skills is critically important if Canada is to reduce its emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. In Ontario, the most populous province, the impact of the skills gap is estimated at $24.3 billion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in foregone company revenues, with an additional $3.7 billion lost in foregone taxation.

A new CaGBC report argues that a skills gap in the construction trades must be addressed in order to spur on zero carbon building. Photo by Joakin Honkasalo via Unsplash.
A new CaGBC report argues that a skills gap in the construction trades must be addressed in order to spur on zero carbon building. Photo by Joakin Honkasalo via Unsplash.

Entitled “Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Trades with the Skills of the Future,” the report puts forward recommendations for new types of training, incentives and construction processes that will help the trades workforce support the construction and mass retrofit of buildings that lower greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, tradespeople need to be trained on how to build efficient building envelopes, including framing, insulation, windows and glazing; install advanced mechanical systems, including heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as maintain energy efficient furnaces, boilers, water heaters, solar panels and geoexchange systems. Creating more efficient building envelopes is critical to reducing greenhouse gases from the built environment.

“Training the labour force with the skills necessary for designing, constructing and operating high-performing, low carbon buildings is critical in supporting a clean growth economy and meeting Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets,” says Thomas Mueller, President and Chief Executive Officer of CaGBC. “To date, not enough attention has been paid to building the skilled labour market that’s urgently needed to meet increasing activity in Canada’s growing green building industry and meet future demand that is imminent.”

CaGBC’s report also demonstrates that technical skills alone will not satisfy the requirements of low-carbon buildings. The report shows the threshold for mistakes in high-performing buildings is narrow and demands a higher level of sophistication, integration and precision for the entire project team. Adjustments to the construction approach and an overall increase in green literacy across the trades is necessary to deliver high-performing buildings.

“Technical skills are immensely important, but even technically proficient trades cannot do it alone,” says Aubrey LeBlanc, Chief Administrative Officer of the Ontario Building Officials Association. “The whole construction ecosystem needs to be trained to achieve a higher level of green literacy if zero carbon buildings are to become the industry standard. Education for building officials would improve communication and collaboration with the trades on construction sites.”

The report explores different delivery modes for training, ranging from full-time in-class courses to short online and on the job training as well as calling for a new certificate for low-carbon skills to help the construction industry identify and secure skilled trades for future projects. CaGBC’s report calls on governments to create supportive public policies and incentivize workforce education and training programs that industry should implement for workers at all career stages.

“Ontario’s highly skilled workforce can help drive the transition to a new era of low-carbon and energy efficient buildings,” says John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council who was part of the advisory group that developed the report. “Building on existing skills while taking a systems approach to embracing new techniques and technologies will be essential to meet the future needs of our province and world.”

The evolution to green buildings comes at a time of transition and rapid growth for Ontario’s construction industry. More than 87,000 retirements – almost 20% of the workforce – and up to 80,000 new jobs are forecast in the trades workforce over the coming decade. In the Toronto region alone, it is estimated that there will be 147,000 job openings in construction in the next 15 years. Filling these positions with people who are proficient in how to construct low-carbon buildings is of paramount importance as Canada moves towards a zero carbon economy.

“This report helps governments and industry identify where shortages in skills training exist, and offers an actionable plan to address those shortages, which will create an education and training market for low-carbon skills,” says Wayne Ostermaier, Dean of the Marshall School of Skilled Trades & Apprenticeship at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, who was also part of the advisory group that developed the report. “Retraining the trainers is critical too. Coaches and professors who teach the construction ecosystem need to be brought up to speed.”

Adrian Conrad, Chief Operating Officer at Cora Group Inc., adds: “Well-informed, integrated teams are essential for delivering projects that perform well and meet goals in line with Canada`s zero carbon design aspirations. Including tradespeople from a very early stage will ensure that good intentions transform into actual results.”


The full “Trading Up” report can be accessed here. It was compiled by CaGBC with Mohawk College, McCallumSather, The Cora Group, the City of Toronto and the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA). The project was funded, in part, by the Government of Ontario. The report examines the Ontario construction industry, but its recommendations can be applied throughout Canada.

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