The PEI vacancy target is unattainable without a larger workforce, the construction industry says

“The only way to increase the industry’s capacity by any magnitude is to bring in the potential of 1,500 to 2,000 skilled workers,” says Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of PEI (Steve Bruce/CBC – image credit)

The PEI’s building association says the provincial housing minister’s goal of reducing the island’s vacancy rate from less than 1 percent to 4 percent within two years will not be achievable without the involvement of skilled tradespeople.

The island’s housing vacancy rate fell to 0.8 percent in October 2022, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Last week, PEI Housing Secretary Matthew MacKay said he was confident that new initiatives the province is planning to add more housing units will bring that rate down to four percent within two years.

The province has offered developer loans with an interest rate of 2 percent and is working to create hundreds of new homes with modular buildings that can be assembled quickly.

But a key voice in the local construction industry says these programs alone are not enough.

“Money will never solve this problem,” said Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of PEI



“It will be people, people, people. We need more people to build, and we can only build so fast… with the people we need to build with.”

At the heart of the PEI’s housing shortage is a population that is growing faster than planned and a construction industry that cannot keep up with the demand for new housing.

According to Statistics Canada, the island’s construction workforce has grown over the past five years from 5,600 in 2017 to 7,200 in 2022.

But demand has also grown, and Sanderson said the industry will lose workers over the next five years.

“We estimate that between 2028 and 2029, one in four people in the industry will retire. Those are huge numbers… The only way to increase the industry’s capacity by any magnitude is in the potential of 1,500 to 2,000 skilled workers,” he said.

“If we continue on the course we have taken with the demand from industry, it will be difficult,” he said, calling the target of a four percent vacancy rate within two years “a pretty difficult challenge”.

“No Way”

Mary Hunter, PEI’s director of human resources development, said the province is working with groups like the Building Association, the PEI Women’s Network and Holland College to promote careers in the industry and expand training programs.

Steve Bruce/CBC

Steve Bruce/CBC

“There’s no one way,” she told CBC. “We’re trying to explore several avenues to really increase the number of artisans in the workforce.”

And she said there are efforts to recruit people from other provinces and countries.

“We also need to get people with experience in the craft to come here and start a business in the province,” she said. “Whether it’s our repatriation efforts or others, it continues to keep up with demand but is also innovating with our partnerships.”

“That Chicken and Egg Thing”

Sanderson said that “more needs to be done within our education system to educate our youth about the opportunities, but we also need to do more on our immigration side. We need to attract these skilled artisans.”

But there’s another problem that worries Sanderson, one he calls “that chicken-and-egg thing.”

“We need people to build, there is no doubt about that. But we also need places for these people to live when they come here.”


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