NB contractors are desperate for labor
As new homes continue to be built in Moncton, contractor Andrew Nelson receives many calls about taking on new projects. But with not enough workers, he routinely turns them down.
“My standard response now is, ‘What’s your schedule?'”
If they say they want to start within the next year or two, “that’s probably not going to happen,” Nelson said.
New Brunswick construction companies are facing a severe labor shortage, which is also being felt across Canada. The provincial industry association estimates that it currently needs more than 2,000 workers and has an estimated 5,000 jobs to fill over the next five years.
The labor shortage comes at a time when Moncton is experiencing a construction boom. The city set a development record last year by issuing $366 million worth of permits and adding more than 1,200 new housing units in response to the nation’s fastest population growth.
But as more and more cranes soar, contractors just can’t keep up. Shortages of skilled workers, artisans, and general workers result in costly delays, unpredictable schedules, and slow project ramp-ups.
Nadine Fullarton, president of the Moncton Northeast Construction Association, said demand has been at an all-time high, putting even more pressure on workers.
“It’s a people problem. There just aren’t enough people in New Brunswick to fill those positions,” she said.
In New Brunswick, nearly a third of construction workers are 55 or older and are expected to retire within the next five years. The generation gap is contributing to the shortage, along with fewer young people entering the industry.
Let’s turn to immigration
Construction companies are struggling to fill on-site jobs, although they are turning to marketing and recruitment firms for help.
Nelson said he could count on one hand the number of people from New Brunswick who applied in the past year. The owner of Homestead Bay Contracting, which builds residential properties, currently has 10 employees but enough work for more than 30.
REGARD | “It’s been a struggle” as contractors try to fill vacancies:
“It was a fight and it’s tough. Customers are so upset. How long will it take? I can’t tell you because the job is such a scary thing.” And it’s the same “for my electricians and plumbers,” he said.
The company has shifted its focus to finding workers in South America, Africa and Europe, although this approach comes with the complications of the slow immigration system. It can take more than a year to bring a construction worker to Canada, and with unexpected delays, it can be almost impossible to estimate a project timeline for a client.
Maksym Bilam, a construction worker originally from Ukraine, is one of several international employees Nelson has hired. He worked in the field in his home country, but said it was a challenge getting a job in Canada when he applied for a position almost seven years ago.
Bilam said he enjoys working in New Brunswick and seeing a project progress from start to finish. “At the end of the day, you’ll see that you’ve spent your time right,” he said.
Fullarton said the industry would like the federal government to make it easier to hire workers through foreign temps and other programs.
“We are intensifying our efforts to advocate for immigration reform that allows our members and contractors to bring in the talent they need,” she said.
The industry association is also working with the province to encourage more young people in New Brunswick to enter crafts and construction. It would be happy to see more store classes and related curriculum return to high schools.
“We really need to work with the government to get them back to a place where we’re able to recruit straight out of high school and bring those people into our industry so we can deliver the services that we’re relying on.” that Canadian citizens can rely on,” Fullarton said.