Immigration reform needed to bring more construction workers into Ontario

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA) says the federal government needs to change current immigration policies to boost the construction workforce.

In a virtual “Summit on Workforce Development,” in early January, the OSTA brought together skilled trades representatives from across Ontario to discuss labour shortages.

Several resolutions were passed at the meeting, including:

  • Increasing the cap on temporary foreign workers from 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the workforce at companies building public infrastructure projects and housing, with a particular focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises
  • Doubling the cap under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP)
  • Allocating 20 per cent of the 9,000 seats within OINP for National Occupation Classification (NOC) level C and D immigrants who meet critical labour markets needs in regions across Ontario.

According to Powering Up: Preparing Canada’s skilled trades for a post-pandemic economy, a recent report by RBC Financial, Canada is falling short of its goal to bring in 3,000 skilled tradespeople annually through immigration, admitting 2,365 such newcomers in 2019 through the Federal Skilled Trades Program.

“Attempts to attract young people, women and immigrants to the field have repeatedly fallen short, leaving many trades unable to replenish vacancies left by retiring workers,” the report said.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum estimates Canada will face a gap of more than 60,000 registered apprentices by 2025, after new registrations plunged 37% last year.

“Canada will feel the pain of these shortages more acutely. In the next five years, the country will confront a shortfall of at least 10,000 skilled tradespeople just in the 56 high-demand Red Seal trades—and the deficit could be 10 times bigger when the 250 provincially regulated trades are included.”

Shortages will be particularly severe among industrial mechanics, boilermakers and welders.

Key points in the RBC report:

  • 25% of Canada’s 4 million tradespeople will need to upgrade their skills within five years amid significant digital disruption.
  • Canada will face a shortage of at least 10,000 workers in nationally recognized Red Seal trades over that period—a deficit that swells tenfold when 250 provincially regulated trades are included.
  • The most severe shortages will be among trades critical to the coming infrastructure boom, including industrial mechanics, welders and boilermakers.
  • Demand for digital and “soft” skills like creativity and problem solving is expected to rise significantly in these critical trades.
  • Over 700,000 skilled tradespeople are expected to retire by 2028. Meanwhile, an outdated perception of the trades has hobbled recruitment efforts.
  • Women made up just 11% of new registrants for apprenticeship programs in 2019 and continue to represent less than 4% of workers in the most in-demand trades.
  • Immigrants comprised 8.7% of apprentices despite accounting for more than 20% of the population.
  • Educators, employers and policymakers will need to address chronic problems in the trades pipeline, tap into underused pools of talent, and address a widening digital skills gap amid rapid technological advances in the workplace.

Founded in 2011, OSTA is a coalition which represents more than 130,000 tradespeople employed by nearly 8,000 employers in the construction service and motive power sectors across the province. It aims to deliver to government and affiliated parties a consensus opinion of employers on matters related to skilled trades.


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