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Construction companies get creative to find skilled workers

Shortage of skilled tradespeople has companies offering bounties and recruiting foreign workers to keep up with demand for new housing and home renovations
william donnellan
IRL Construction CEO William Donnellan: “the skilled workforce is just not there. There are so many large-scale construction projects and simply just not enough workers, simple as that.” | Chung Chow

A leading Metro Vancouver home renovation company is offering cash rewards to anyone who can help find it tradespeople with specific skills.

“We are looking for one Red Seal carpenter and one site supervisor with extensive residential experience,” Ralph Belisle, president of TQ Construction, a home renovation firm based in Burnaby, said in an email to Western Investor.  “We are offering a $500 reward for each successful hire.”

The cash incentive is open to all clients, subtrades, suppliers and even employees of TQ Construction, a 33-year-old company that has won local, provincial and national awards for its home renovations.

“We offer competitive wages, paid vacation and opportunities for training, promotion and performance bonuses,” the company states.

TQ is among Vancouver-area residential contractors facing a shortage of skilled labour, according to the BC Construction Association (BCCA), which warns the province is facing a shortfall of at least 15,000 workers.

A recent BCCA survey found that 94 per cent of B.C. construction companies are trying to hire more workers and that the average annual salary for a B.C. construction worker is $56,170.

That wage rate is rising in Metro Vancouver, said Bob de Wit, executive president of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, who added builders and renovators are competing fiercely for skilled labour, especially project managers and qualified framers.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Irish workers are going into the B.C. construction industry to beef up missing company muscle, prompting local employers to rethink international recruitment strategies and the future of employmentin the sector.

A total of 5,885 immigrants from Ireland were living in B.C. as of 2016 – 3,835 of them in the Metro Vancouver area, said Lori Cascaden, communications manager at the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology.

Cascaden credits steady Irish immigration rates to consistent employment demand in trades and the appeal of Canada as a livable country.

According to a recent survey by ManpowerGroup, 41 per cent of Canadian employers report difficulty filling jobs, with skilled trades being the toughest sector in the country.

Additionally, 28 per cent of employers are changing existing work models by offering flexible work arrangements to attract and retain talent. 

William Donnellan, owner of Vancouver-based building company IRL Construction, is a native Irish citizen who has been living in B.C. for over 15 years. 

He said nearly half of his workforce is Irish and, even with recruitment efforts, the industry is still desperate for workers.

“The skilled workforce is just not there,” Donnellan said. “There are so many large-scale construction projects and simply just not enough workers, simple as that.”

“We do help a lot of those Irish... immigrate to Canada because there is just a huge labour force shortage in Vancouver and B.C. at the moment.”

Donnellan does most of his recruiting in Ireland and other parts of Europe, marketing through a range of media including radio, social media, hiring websites and universities – including the Irish university Donnellan graduated from as a young adult.

In addition to his construction company, Donnellan also owns Donnellan’s Irish Pub on Granville Street. The popular Irish hangout serves as a good place to post construction industry job openings, Donnellan said.

“[Irish workers] are very steady for a number of reasons,” said Chris Atchison, president of the BCAA.

“One of the factors is the type of visa they can manage to get a hold of from country of origin. Ireland has a unique situation with Canada in that the International Experience Visa for young folks from 18 to 35 can get a two-year visa,” he said.