Skilled labour shortage a safety concern in busy construction year

Ontario Construction Secretariat's survey highlights challenges and strategies for 2024

Skilled labour shortage a safety concern in busy construction year

The Ontario construction landscape is gearing up for a bustling year ahead, with a surge in projects anticipated for 2024. According to the annual Contractor Survey conducted by the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS), contractors across the province are bracing for increased business activity, fueled by a robust project pipeline spanning sectors such as power generation, transit, and healthcare facilities. But there is a looming challenge that is also a safety concern.

"There is a massive project pipeline in Ontario that is fueling positivity about business prospects," says Robert Bronk, CEO of the OCS. "However, amidst this momentum, we cannot overlook the pressing challenges, particularly in addressing the skilled labour shortage."

The survey, which polled 500 contractors between November 2023 and January 2024, underscored the complexity of the labour shortage issue. While 65 per cent of respondents anticipated recruiting skilled workers to be more challenging in 2024, concerns varied across trades and regions. "There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution,” explains Bronk. “Depending on the trade, geographic location, and sector, the shortage manifests differently."

Indeed, the shortage's impact on safety is a critical concern for health and safety professionals. Bronk addressed this issue, highlighting the stringent procedures in place within the unionized sector to ensure safety standards are upheld. "Projects may experience delays due to manpower shortages," he explained, "but safety remains non-negotiable. Our partnership with contractors ensures that workers are dispatched only after meeting all safety training requirements."

Bronk also acknowledges the challenges faced by contractors who do not utilize unionized workers, noting instances where safety standards may be compromised. "You do see a lot of these sketchy contractors who operate in the underground economy," says Bronk. "They're paying guys cash, not paying WSIB, or bypassing safety protocols. It's a big part of the problem."

The OCS survey revealed that 78 per cent of union contractors reported having apprentices as part of their teams, underscoring a commitment to training and safety. "Our network of training centers plays a pivotal role in equipping workers with the skills and knowledge necessary for safe practices on job sites," explains Bronk. "Maintaining these standards is paramount, especially amidst labour challenges."

Despite the optimism surrounding business growth, rising costs emerged as a prominent concern among contractors. Material costs, labour costs, and transportation costs were cited as top apprehensions, signaling potential challenges in project execution. "Rising costs remain a concern," Bronk acknowledged, "but contractors are adapting, with many investing in new technologies to enhance efficiency and mitigate risks."

Looking ahead, Bronk says collaboration and foresight is key to navigating the complexities of Ontario's construction landscape. "Government and industry stakeholders must work together to ensure projects are sequenced and resources are allocated effectively," he urges. "By prioritizing safety and strategic planning, we can address challenges head-on while capitalizing on the opportunities for growth."

As Ontario's construction industry braces for a busy year ahead, the spotlight remains on balancing productivity with safety amidst a skilled labour shortage. With concerted efforts and proactive measures, stakeholders aim to steer the industry towards sustainable growth and resilience in the face of evolving challenges.