Addressing the labour shortage: an industry executive’s perspective

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By Jeffrey Street

Special to Ontario Construction News

Like many small and medium-sized businesses in Eastern Ontario, Ottawa-based McDonald Brothers Construction (MBC) worries about finding the skilled workers it needs to pursue a growing number of opportunities in the institutional, commercial, and industrial building sector it serves.

For Allessandro Guarna, the company’s vice-president of finance, a sensible solution is to take advantage of a provincially funded skills development program aimed at reducing the current labour shortage and upskilling incumbent workers so they can contribute more.

“Any labourer can come to a job site and push a broom around, but if you want people to add greater value and fill the gaps that are out there you need them to be trained to a point where they can work safely and independently in a wider range of roles,” says Guarna. “So I think it’s a really great thing that we have this program in place to support the industry.”

He’s referring to an initiative funded by SkillsAdvance Ontario and co-ordinated by the Eastern Ontario College Consortium/Consortium des Collèges de l’Est de l’Ontario (EOCC-CCEO), a coalition of five colleges that came together in 2019 to support the training needs of key growth sectors in the region.

The consortium offers innovative, sector-based training to help businesses onboard new workers and upskill and retain existing employees. Recognizing that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to training, it works with employers to offer tailored solutions in the full range of workforce development areas, including custom onboarding, mandatory health and safety training — such as first aid, machine and equipment safety, and Covid-related health and safety courses — construction project management, supervisory training, construction technologies, stress management, general labourer training and more.

The program is not only free for employers who qualify but also designed to avoid common perceived pitfalls of funded training, such as burdensome paperwork, lengthy application processes and inflexible scheduling.

“We often dismiss a lot of these kinds of programs because we don’t meet all the criteria to participate,” explains Guarna. “But in this case, it’s very open-ended. Just about every employer in the construction industry I can think of can benefit from it.”

According to Guarna, the cost savings to MBC are a genuine bonus.

“Normally, we might identify a few people within our company who show promise and send them off for skills development. That costs us per head, but with this program we’re able to get more people trained and generally be more creative,” Guarna explains. “I set up a plans reading course, for example, and arranged to make it available for anyone in the company who wanted to attend. We had quite a good turnout.”

In fact, more than half of the company’s 45 employees participated in the course, which, he says, “was really cool.”

He adds: “In addition to the business value to the company in having people exposed to that kind of training, it helps position us as an employer of choice that wants to engage and motivate its staff. That’s one of the hidden values. You don’t always think about it, but it’s there.”

Allessandro Guarna
Allessandro Guarna

Beyond the direct benefits to MBC, Guarna recognizes the program’s value through his experience as past president of the General Contractors Association of Ottawa. He also sits on the EOCC-CCEO’s advisory committee of industry insiders who help guide the consortium and ensure that training offered to employers remains relevant.

“Take advantage of this,” Guarna urges others in the industry. “You don’t want to wait until it’s too late and you can’t find the right people to perform the jobs you need filled. Now’s the time to upskill your existing labour force, too. The program is not going to last forever — use it or lose it,” he recommends.

To learn more about this unique program, contact the EOCC-CCEO at info@eocc-cceo.ca, call 1-844-853-0326 or visit https://eocc-cceo.ca/support-for-construction-employers.

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