On-Site Magazine

Changes needed to align immigration to labour needs

By Adam Freill   

Construction Labour

Construction stakeholders call for immigration system reforms to help address looming labour gaps.

(Report cover courtesy of BuildForce Canada)

Changes are needed to Canada’s immigration system to ensure the construction sector can respond to growth, and deliver on key public-policy priorities, such as building new housing and greening infrastructure, says BuildForce Canada in its Immigration Report Update.

The publication, developed with input from an industry steering committee consisting of representatives from Canada’s Building Trades Unions, the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, Merit Canada, and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada, examines the current state of immigration policies at the national level and across Canada’s provinces and territories.

Recommendations outlined in the report include the adoption of a series of consensus principles by governments to ensure the construction sector can better access skilled workers from abroad in an effort to address projected shortages of skilled labour created by rising construction demands and changing demographics.

“Construction activity is projected to grow across the country over the next decade, driven by more than $450 billion worth of non-residential projects that are taking place across the country and renewed growth in the residential sector in the middle and later years of the 2020s,” stated Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada. “Our labour market information models, which do not take into account additional labour demands created by the impetus to build millions of new housing units or to meet Canada’s net-zero targets, suggest that the industry could face a recruiting gap of more than 85,000 workers by 2033.”


Finding these workers, he says, will require a look beyond Canada’s borders.

“Closing this gap will require the industry to hire from a variety of sources, including from among the hundreds of thousands of new permanent and non-permanent residents that are projected to be admitted to Canada in the coming years,” said Ferreira. “The difficulty is, the system does not currently support this objective.”

Among the key findings in the report is that Canada’s immigration system favours university-educated applicants. Absent change, says BuildForce, this may create challenges for the construction sector, which depends on recruiting large numbers of individuals with trade certificates or other competencies that are currently overlooked in the immigration process.

Particularly in demand are technical trades and transportation officers and controllers (NOC Category 7), which collectively account for more than three-quarters of the total construction labour force, and who have struggled to obtain entry under Canada’s existing Express Entry system.

To better support industries like construction that are strongly dependent on skilled trades workers, the BuildForce report recommends four guiding reform principles be adopted, including: addressing educational bias in the Express Entry selection system; aligning of federal and provincial immigration policies and increased transparency; industry involvement in labour market planning, analysis and recruitment; and the support of competencies-based skills assessments for foreign credential recognition.

“While the construction industry will always prioritize the recruitment of domestic workers, the changing career preferences of Canadian youth and rising retirement levels have made it more challenging for the industry to keep pace with accelerating construction demands,” explained Sean Strickland, chair of BuildForce Canada. “Aligning immigration priorities more closely with the current and future needs of Canadian industries is therefore imperative.”




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