Navigating workforce shortages
Foreign workers an option to help address the supply and demand imbalance on Canadian construction projects.
In a time of continuing growth in the construction industry, the need for employers to find a qualified and capable workforce also continues to grow.
According to a 2021 BuildForce Canada report, by 2030 the Canadian construction industry is projected to lose approximately 300,000 of its workforce. Furthermore, the impact from the ongoing pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to find qualified people to fill gaps and keep up with demand.
Although this issue has had an impact on our economy nationally, the lack of worker supply has been felt particularly hard in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Given the federal government’s commitment of $180 billion dedicated to infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and water works facilities, the lack of available workers may impact the availability of contractors and subcontractors to complete this work.
Making it easier for workers to transplant their skills from one province to another may help address domestic labour shortages, but the use of foreign workers to supplement Canadian workforces may also be worth investigating.
In 2006, Quebec and Ontario entered into the Ontario-Quebec Construction Mobility Agreement. The purpose of the agreement is to simplify access to construction work for contractors, construction workers or those who transport aggregates who wish to work in one province but live in another.
The types of work that are covered by the agreement include electrical work, plumbing, and carpentry. The agreement may provide a template for other provinces, and the federal government, to consider expanding upon.
New immigrants are non-Canadians that come to Canada with the likely intention of becoming a permanent resident and, ultimately, a Canadian citizen. Canada plans to admit a record 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years.
Many immigrants are able to come to Canada and receive permanent residency under the “skilled worker program,” where the applicant receives points based on their education and work experience. This program is available to candidates through both the federal government and each provincial government. However, Canada tends to favour immigrants with professional qualifications, such as lawyers, doctors and business executives.
Traditionally, not much attention has been given to trades. However, since 2018, international students enrolled in trade programs have increased from 12 to 20 per cent, so the interest appears to be growing.
TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS
Temporary foreign workers are non-Canadians that come to Canada for a fixed period of time with the intention of working during that time. This may provide an avenue to recruit more temporary workers to address time-sensitive needs in the construction industry. This will, of course, require consideration of the qualifications and experience from worker’s abroad that may be easily convertible to Canadian needs.
Temporary foreign workers can subscribe to applicable unions, vote on union certification motions if they are onsite, and are entitled to the average wage a Canadian would receive for the job.
In order to provide a work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, an employer must first:
- Advertise their job position through at least two eligible methods nationally, or through the provincial counterpart (print ads, recruitment websites, radio, et cetera) in a way that is accessible to the general public for at least four weeks within three months prior to the application.
- The employer must apply for and receive a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Agency.
- Alternatively, a more expedited and less costly process may be for the employer to negotiate a Labour Market Benefits Plan with the Canadian government to recruit foreign workers. This is a legally binding agreement between the government and the employer.
The pressure on the shortage of worker supply will likely continue to increase within the next decade unless innovative changes are made.
Rich Yehia is counsel in the Construction Group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Avesta Alani is an Associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. For questions or concerns on current rules and regulations on foreign workers on construction projects, or other construction related inquiries, Avesta at email@example.com or Rich at ryehia@blg. com. This article provides an overview and is not intended to be exhaustive of the subject matter contained therein. Although care has been taken to ensure accuracy, this article should not be relied upon as legal advice.