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Editorial: The HR nightmare


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April 1, 2015 by JIM BARNES

Every once in a while, an industry faces a huge problem barrelling straight toward it – right down the middle of the highway. Just like in a nightmare, you can see it coming for miles and that still doesn’t mean that you will be able to dodge it.

One such problem is the coming construction labour shortage. If you think worker shortages are bad now, they are about to get much worse. The combination of large-scale retirements and growth in construction markets over the coming decade is leading to a serious labour crunch, as the latest forecast from BuildForce Canada suggests.

It isn’t just your own workforce that is going to be affected. The whole industry – your subcontractors and partners, too – is going to be hit. Many of them may not be as well-prepared or taking this as seriously as you are. Some smaller subs may simply go out of business, as the owner retires without a succession plan.

Parts of the industry will have to go through some changes in attitude. One is the role of women in construction. To use the popular phrase, I don’t get why this is “still a thing.” Women make intelligent, hardworking and organized construction workers and have held leading roles in the industry for many years now. Careers in construction can offer many women the challenge, responsibility and financial security they are looking for in a career.

It’s a sad fact that the programs are still very important. You would think we would be past that by now. We are still trying to educate both the industry and potential female workers that they have a place in construction. If there is any lingering doubt about the benefits that female workers can bring to your firm, some re-education is needed. If you have an opportunity to encourage women to consider a career in the industry, take it.

As well, there are programs tapping into the First Nations workforce as part of the solution. This could very well require a cultural change at your company – some workers could be carrying baggage about the characters and work ethics of Aboriginal workers, before they even set foot on the site! Don’t let stereotypes hamstring your recruiting efforts.

Foreign workers aren’t even a stopgap solution. The Temporary Foreign Worker program has become a political football, partly because some employers have abused it. As of this month, the federal government is requiring TFWs who had reached the end of their four-year assignments to leave the country – no matter what. Tens of thousands of “low-skilled” workers will be affected.

The headlights are getting closer. Many of the industry associations are already taking leadership positions on this. It’s time to get involved and engage in joint action that is going to benefit your business. It won’t be a slam-dunk. I once spoke with a manager who had escorted a guidance counsellor and some students through his facility. As they were leaving, he asked the counsellor what he thought of the operation. His reply was, “It’s too dirty. I would never suggest to a student that they ask for a job in this industry.” I guess he thought that all his students could become guidance counsellors.

By the time you read this, you will have received an invitation to participate in On-Site’s Top Contractors survey. It’s a valuable research tool on who’s who in the industry and levels of business, as well as a celebration of Canadian success. Your participation is very much appreciated. If you have any questions or suggestions, contact editor@on-sitemag.com.


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