So much discussion has been focused lately on the skilled trades and how can we attract youth and those displaced by COVID-19 into construction.
The OGCA has participated in many provincial committee discussions facilitated by our government on the subject of skilled trades, and our association has always been a huge advocate of, not only the skilled trades but construction, as a destination.
So, why is construction still seen as the last choice for youth when considering career decisions? To answer that, we need to take a deeper dive into the past and the attitudes associated with construction. I believe that looking to the past will clear a path for our future.
Going back to the 1960s through to the early 1980s, so many immigrants flocked to Canada because of opportunities. Those opportunities were in many industries, but none more so than in the construction sector. During this time period, construction was in a constant state of advancement and was referred to as “booming.” For example, throughout the 1960s, subways were the norm in downtown Toronto; the residential sector was starting to grow exponentially; and the ICI landscape was starting to blossom with high-rise cranes. Immigrants were welcomed into construction and only weeks after their landing, found fruitful jobs in the trades.
How do I know this? Well, because my parents were part of that immigration to Canada. And my late father was one of those individuals who, within weeks of immigrating, was already accepted into a construction trade. Granted, my father was a licensed stonemason from Italy and the comparable trade for him was masonry, but the opportunities were equivalent for all immigrants as long as they had a desire to work.
So, why don’t we have the same influx of immigrants to construction today? What has changed?
Firstly, when my father was looking for work in the trades, he didn’t need to submit a resume. There were no comprehensive written tests that he needed to obtain a specific percentage to be considered acceptable. Instead, the owner of the company put him to work immediately and watched him. After observing my father set-up, organize his tools and then start to lay bricks and blocks, after only fifteen (15) minutes, the owner of the company knew that he had scored the jackpot.
Why do I make this comparison and how is it relevant to today? Because in the past, you simply needed to demonstrate your practical prowess to be accepted. In present day, there is far too much regulatory burden to allow for this to occur. This is especially highlighted in the interprovincial issues that exist when skilled workers from other provinces find it difficult to obtain work in Ontario.
Granted, they were simpler times back then and I can hear some of you noting that health and safety was much different as well. I don’t disagree, but there needs to be a comfortable balance reached in order to facilitate more people being interested in the trades. If the youth, or those displaced by COVID-19, believe the barriers for entry to be too high, then they may be more apt to avoid construction entirely, which, in my mind, is a shame. Remember, work in the trades is not being affected by other trades, but instead by other industries.
Secondly, my father came to the trades already a craftsman from another country. Yes, there were differences in the work, but fundamentally it was still construction and he had all of the necessary “tools” to facilitate a fluid adaptation. By tools I don’t mean the actual hammer and trowel he used, I mean the attitude toward the work. Basically, he came already trained and knowing of what construction entailed.
Unfortunately, this is a stark difference to the attitudes of today. Unlike most of the youth of today, I was exposed to construction at an early age, assisting my father on construction sites, on his “side” jobs and in his projects around the house. Additionally, I was also fortunate enough to be part of the cohort of students that remember Shop and Home Economics; yes, I am that old!
Due to this lack of exposure, today’s youth lack some fundamental “tools” that would help rather than hinder their transition into construction.
Today, construction is painted in a stigma that makes it unpalatable. Why? What happened along this timeline to detract from construction and relegate it to this scorned category?
Would you believe that it was the attitude of the immigrants themselves? Seriously. I experienced this firsthand as my father constantly urged me to stay in school and get an education. He always noted that in Canada, I had the opportunity to work with my head instead of working with my back. This was always a source of consternation, since my father was one of the smartest people I knew. He could do calculus in his head and just by viewing the area of a wall could, to the brick, calculate the quantity required to sheath the exterior. He was brilliant. So why did he insist on me staying in school and going to university?
The answer is clearer than you think: because he never had the opportunity to do so himself, and as a parent, he always wanted life to be better for his children. So, like a good son that wanted to make his father proud, I did well in school and obtained that university degree. But this is the hurdle that construction faces: the attitude of the parents, andthe fact that they want their children to do better than themselves. I don’t believe that a child’s betterment needs to be accomplished in spite of construction, but through construction as a destination.
Construction equals opportunity. Regardless of the decade, this statement still holds true.
Notwithstanding the change in attitude towards the industry in the past, construction needs to be reinvigorated and touted by the government as a vital industry and main contributor to the provincial and national GDP of Canada. This also needs to trickle down to the parents and they need to see how construction has made advancements in health and safety initiatives, innovations and technology, but that a career in construction is lucrative.
The OGCA applauds the government’s move to destigmatize construction through a focused campaign. They see the possibilities in the trades and are now targeting youth as early as grade school to start the discussions about construction as a destination. They are targeting guidance counselors and parents as well through information demonstrating the benefits of a career in the trades.
Construction shouldn’t be peoples’ last resort or where you go when you can’t make it elsewhere, but instead the first choice of those that want to make a physical difference in our economy, our landscape and our future.
Tell your family, tell your friends, tell everyone “Construction equals opportunity!”
Should anyone want to discuss the OGCA’s involvement in the skilled trades, opportunities in construction or if you require any assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 905.671.3969.