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B.C. construction industry taps $10M to help battle worker shortages

Initiative has registered 1,329 apprentices and given funding to 700 employers.
B.C.’s construction industry is squeezed by a high level of activity, an aging workforce and expected retirements, according to industry groups.

Construction apprentices in B.C. are getting a leg up as the industry navigates an ongoing worker shortage.

The B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) announced Wednesday (Sept. 27) it’s so far distributed $10 million to small and medium-sized employers in the construction business through its Apprenticeship Services program.

The program, funded by Ottawa, offers cash incentives to hire and register first-year apprentices. Another $4 million is still available to distribute to employers.  

Since its launch in September 2022, the program has provided incentives for the hiring and registering of 1,329 apprentices and has sent payments to more than 700 employers. 

 “The Apprenticeship Services project has become one of the most successful workforce development programs the BCCA has ever launched,” said BCCA president Chris Atchison in a statement.

“The timing of this initiative couldn’t be better. Our industry is hungry for skilled workers.” 

The BCCA said in Wednesday’s announcement the project is the “most far-reaching construction trade apprenticeship drive ever undertaken” in the province.

B.C.’s construction industry has been facing a shortage of workers with the potential for 6,000 positions to be left unfilled by 2032, according to BCCA figures.

A 2023 report from the BuildForce Canada industry group said the sector must balance high levels of activity with an aging and retiring workforce. 

New registrations to the 25 biggest trade programs have remained below the peak levels seen in 2013, despite some fluctuations, the report said. New registrations fell by nine per cent, while employment increased by 14 per cent between 2013 and 2019.

“The ratio of new registrations relative to construction employment has fallen, posing the risk for an insufficient number of newly certified journeypersons to sustain workforce requirements over the long term,” said the BuildForce report.

The BCCA forecasts there will be 22,700 construction job openings in the province by 2032 due to retirements and industry expansion.

Funded by the federal government’s Apprenticeship Service initiative, the program offers employers financial incentives to hire a first-year apprentice in up to 39 Red Seal trades.

Despite registrations across 35 of these trades, almost $6 million in funding has gone to employers registering first-year carpenters, construction electricians and plumbers. 

Employers are given $5,000 for each apprentice registered in one of the Red Seal trades, and an extra $5,000 is issued if the apprentice self-identifies as part of underrepresented group.  

Women account for 4.5 per cent of the construction trades workforce in B.C. as of spring 2023, according to BCCA data. Meanwhile, 51 per cent of project apprentices to date have declared themselves to be a member of an underrepresented group.  

“Canada needs more skilled trades workers. We need more women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, racialized Canadians and individuals from the 2SLGBTQI+ community to join the skilled trades,” Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault said in a statement.

Employers can register up to two first-year apprentices and receive a $20,000 incentive if they register before March 31, 2024.

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