Ontario Construction Secretariat’s annual survey identifies need for increased investment in apprenticeship training

Ontario’s industrial, commercial and institutional building construction industry continues to face skills shortages, a situation that is likely to worsen with the aging workforce, making increased awareness and investment in apprenticeship training an important economic priority for the province.

According to the annual survey of the industry commissioned by the Ontario Construction Secretariat, parts of which were released last week, contractors identify shortages of skilled labour and staff as the key barrier to business expansion. Only 18 per cent of the respondents expect the availability of skilled construction workers to increase in 2011, down from 23 per cent last year and 47 per cent in 2009.

“This points to the need for increased investment in apprenticeship training to further awareness of career opportunities in the skilled construction trades as well as to improve employment opportunities for apprentices, yet the survey indicates that the opposite may be taking place,” says Sean Strickland, CEO of the Secretariat. 

The number of firms employing apprentices has declined to 43 per cent from 47 per cent a year ago (and 57 per cent in 2009). Unionized contractors are considerably more likely to hire registered apprentices, with 68 per cent of union respondents indicating that they employ apprentices compared to 32 per cent of non-union contractors. The survey also revealed that unionized contractors are more likely to employ significantly more apprentices than their non-union counterparts.

And among those firms that employ apprentices, only about one-quarter (23 per cent) indicate that their investment in apprenticeship training is increasing, while most (71 per cent) indicate that it is ‘staying the same’.

“Typically during periods of decreased economic activity, apprenticeship investment declines due to fewer construction projects.  In times of decreased construction activity it is harder to find jobs for apprentices.  We hope that with increased economic activity we will see additional investment in apprenticeship,” Strickland notes.

The Construction Sector Council (CSC) has estimated that the Ontario construction industry will need to replace 23 per cent of its workforce or 73,000 workers by 2019 because of the aging of this population.

Among contractors that employ apprentices, there is disagreement over whether the skill levels of apprentices are better today than five years ago – 40 per cent saying yes, 40 per cent saying no.

However, there is agreement on some of the areas that need to be addressed in order to attract and train the skilled workers of the future: 

  • 65 per cent say youth are not aware of construction career opportunities
  • 93 per cent say more needs to be done to expose youth to the technical skills required by the construction industry
  • 82 per cent say new training requirements will be needed because of new environmental standards such as LEED
  • 77 per cent indicate that the academic level of new apprentices needs to be improved

The survey of 1,000 non-residential ICI contractors in Ontario was conducted by Ipsos Reid between November 21 and December 16, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 per cent, nineteen times out of twenty (95 per cent confidence interval).

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