Evidence of meeting #39 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was construction.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

Mr. Shory, your time is up.

I would like to thank the presenters for their suggestions and some of their ideas, which we'll certainly take into account.

We'll suspend for about 10 minutes and then start the next panel.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

We will call the meeting to order.

On behalf of the Canadian Construction Association, we have Michael Atkinson, the president. We heard from one of your organizations here earlier. In addition, from Skills Canada, we have Shaun Thorson, the chief executive officer.

You will present and then there'll be questions and answers. We'll have to break a little early today, because there will be bells summoning us to a vote at 5:15.

Go ahead and present, Mr. Atkinson.

4:40 p.m.

Michael Atkinson President, Canadian Construction Association

Mr. Chair, the Canadian Construction Association would like to thank you for the opportunity to present here today.

Our organization represents the non-residential sector of the construction industry, so we build everything except single-family dwellings. We build Canada's infrastructure.

Our industry employs close to 1.3 million Canadians. We're one of the largest, if not the largest, industrial employers in the country. One out of every 16 working Canadians earns a living in the construction industry. Construction accounts for about 6% of Canada’s GDP, amounting to more than $150 billion worth of economic activity annually.

About 90% to 95% of the construction firms active in the construction industry are small businesses by anybody's definition. The vast majority of these businesses are Canadian-owned and family businesses.

We have what amounts to a perfect storm challenging our industry. It has to do with labour supply and skills supply. There are two major factors. First, we have unprecedented high demand for construction services, and this is projected to go on for a full decade if not two decades. The Global Construction 2020 report published in March 2011 by Oxford Economics predicts that Canada’s construction market will be the fifth largest in the world by 2020, behind only China, the U.S., India, and Japan. And there are some economists who believe we are going to surpass Japan.

To give you an idea of what that means in output, by 2013 total construction investment in Canada will likely surpass $300 billion, which is double 2004's total in less than 10 years. Projects are becoming larger and more complex. Because of the high demand coming from the resource sector, there is more work in remote areas, where there isn't always the infrastructure to support that kind of development.

To give you some idea of what I'm talking about, the magazine ReNew Canada released its 100 top infrastructure projects in Canada. For the first time, the top 30 of those 100 projects were individually valued at $1 billion or more. The top 61 of those infrastructure projects are valued at over $500,000.

The other part of the perfect storm is what's happening with our demographics. We have an aging workforce. Like most industries in Canada, we're trying to recruit from an ever-shrinking labour pool due to Canada's low fertility rate. Canada's fertility rate is about 1.58, and 2.1 is what the international economists say you need to replace your population on an ongoing basis. Canada's at 1.58; the United States is at 2.06, almost at replacement; and Mexico's at 2.3.

Last year was the first year that the baby boomers started turning 65. It just about threw me off my chair to learn that for the next decade more than 1,000 Canadians are expected to retire or reach retirement age every day for the next 10 years. The equivalent stat in the United States is 10,000 people a day.

The Construction Sector Council, in their latest labour market information report, says that our industry is going to need to attract some 319,000 new workers by 2020 just to keep up with demand and to replace those who are going to retire. It projects that about 163,000 of that 319,000 we can get domestically. Domestically, in the trades they're tracking, we'll find some coming through the apprenticeship system, some coming through the training system, and some from immigration. But the other 156,000 are going to have to come from outside the industry or outside Canada.

Now, this is not an overnight problem. We've been aware that we were facing this tidal wave for some 10 years or so, and we have taken many measures, primarily on a local, regional, and provincial basis, on a number of fronts, to try to attract more people from under-represented groups in our industry: women, first nations, and aboriginal people. Youth has been a huge focus of our marketing in that area.

Labour mobility is another aspect that we felt had to be addressed by looking at apprenticeships and basically the ability to try to provide more incentives to have people go to where the jobs are. Obviously, immigration is a key part of that. So there is no one magic bullet; there is no one magic pill here. As an industry, we focused on four or five different growth areas as a means to try to increase and enhance our future labour pool.

Now, we get to the question of the day: how can government assist or help in that area? Frankly, to a great degree, this committee has the answers. Your very comprehensive report issued in April 2008 called “Employability in Canada: Preparing for the Future” contained a number of excellent recommendations. In fact, many of those recommendations have since been put into place by governments. We would applaud a number of the measures that were recognized in that report.

I know I'm getting close to my time, so I'm going to wrap up, but I'll give you some quick examples.

One of them is providing incentives to have people who are either on EI or simply unemployed go from one region to another where the work is. One of the things that our industry has been calling for, and, indeed, this committee recommended, was to provide either some tax incentives through the Income Tax Act or some support for relocation expenses through the EI system for workers relocating on a temporary basis.

And as I said earlier, a lot of projects that we will be doing in the future in the resource sector are going to be in very remote areas, and we're going to need a workforce for a temporary time in that area. Unfortunately, right now there is not a support network to limit or mitigate the expenses incurred by workers going into areas on a temporary basis, when they still have a principal residence to maintain at home. So that's one area where we think there could be some assistance.

The second one is apprenticeship, which I heard being discussed earlier today. The apprenticeship job creation tax credit is a great initiative, as is the incentive grant. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, as recognized by the earlier report by this committee, is restricted to Red Seal trades. Moreover, it has been gutted by Canada Revenue Agency, because it made a ruling almost as soon as this initiative came out that said that if you take the tax credit as an employer, you've got to add it back into taxable income the subsequent year. I had a number of contractor members who were absolutely elated when it was first announced, who indeed engaged a number of first- and second-year apprentices, which the tax credit addresses, only to find out that it wasn't the tax incentive they thought it was. That's truly unfortunate because I think it was a good step in the right direction.

On the immigration front, a number of good announcements and initiatives have been made or put into place recently, and there's probably some more work we can do on that area.

Mr. Chair, I think I'm going to stop there and allow some of the further discussion to come up during the questioning, but I will also say that we certainly supported the work of the committee back in 2008 and a number of the recommendations in your report of that year. We would certainly encourage your resurrecting some of the recommendations that have not been acted on.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you. Thank you for that presentation and suggestions.

Mr. Thorson, go ahead.

4:50 p.m.

Shaun Thorson Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

I want to begin by thanking you, Mr. Chair, and the committee, for the opportunity for our organization to present. It's the first time we've had this opportunity, so it's very much appreciated.

You've heard a lot about the statistics, the problems, the shortages, the growing demands, the projects that are upcoming, and the need for workers. I'm here to present the view from a youth perspective, if I can, to try to give you an idea of some of the barriers that we see they're facing. We really see that as one of the first steps in trying to address the skills gap and skills shortage. Unfortunately, I think we're still battling negative perceptions of skilled trades. Mothers and fathers, and even peers to a certain extent, still hold the view that there are not valuable careers available in the skilled trades and technology areas.

Just to provide you with a little background on our organization, we are a national organization with offices in all 10 provinces and three territories. We're governed by a voluntary board of directors. Our mission is to encourage and support a coordinated Canadian approach to promoting skilled trades and technologies to youth. What we're really about are interactive sensory experiences providing youth not just the opportunity to take away a piece of paper telling them about specific careers, but they actually get to try them.

We do that through a number of different activities, including skills clubs and camps, cardboard boat races at the junior high and elementary level, young women's conferences, and activities focused on some of those underrepresented groups. But the activity that we're most well-known for is competitions, where we bring youth from across the country together to participate in regional, provincial, national, and international competitions. It gives those young people a real perspective on what's involved in skilled trades and technology careers.

We believe that what we need to do is to reach students at a young age. We need to provide information and an activity so that they can really understand what's involved in skilled trades and technology careers. In our competitions each year, we have more than 100,000 students participate, starting at the school level. We have about 600 competitors at the national level.

The more important piece, along with those students who are participating as competitors, is that we also have try-a-trade and technology competitions. Visitors to those competitions, which are set up in a convention centre style, find these very conducive to media and public participation. I just flew back last night from Edmonton, where we were hosting the national competition at the EXPO Centre. We had over 200,000 square feet of floor space in the centre, offering more than 40 different trades room for participation. We also had visiting schools from around Edmonton and province there. Students had the opportunity to try a trade or a technology. They could try to build a brick wall or wire a circuit board, or colour someone's hair to give them that sensory experience so they have a better understanding of what's involved in those occupations. We think that is crucial.

You've heard already a little bit about the challenge, the aging demographic that we're battling against, and also an economy that is rich in natural resources and that will definitely have a demand for skilled trades and technology workers in mining, energy, and the construction industries.

You've heard some comments earlier. Some of our recommendations include, obviously, continued emphasis on worker mobility through the Red Seal program. We think that is key. It is a national standard.

We would also like to see some expansion of that into apprenticeship recognition, which is happening on a bilateral basis from province to province. Again, that's extremely positive. If people are starting training and have gathered experience and have the hours, they are now moving to the jobs to try to meet that economic demand. We want to see things in place that can really support that progress. That's obviously important.

We need to clearly communicate the business case to employers about why they should train apprentices. Again, you heard earlier about the return on training investment that the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum completed a number of years ago. On average, for every dollar invested in the more than 16 trade areas they studied, $1.37 came back in return to those companies.

We need to continue to deliver that message about training, and we need to develop some better career pathways for young people so they understand that if they enter into a specific trade area, become certified, get their journeyperson status, and want to progress to different elements in that industry, there are opportunities to do that. If they start as a carpenter they can become a foreman, a project manager, or an estimator. We need to clearly identify that to those young people.

We also recommend some stronger alignment between all the systems of education and training. It was mentioned earlier that we need to get to youth at a younger age, and we definitely support that. We need to provide opportunity and information to young people at a young age so they realize they can progress through the system of education to do something they want to do.

When we talk about youth we are obviously talking about under-represented groups. We feel it is important to have specific programming focused on women and aboriginals. We think that is key. It is probably key in keeping those people in communities, especially when we're looking at rural communities, trying to provide, if not training, at least information to people in those communities so they understand what some of the opportunities available to them are with some of these projects. Many of them are in remote locations.

We need to have a system with a real connection between education and what industry is looking for. Most importantly, we need young people to understand that parents believe skilled trades are valuable careers.

We participated in a joint study with the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum back in 2006, and we asked an interesting question. We asked parents if they felt they had provided positive messages to their children about skilled trades. About 68% felt they had provided positive messages about careers in skilled trades. When we polled the parents' children, only 24% said they had received positive messages from their parents. So there's obviously a disconnect somewhere between the messages parents are sending out and what their sons and daughters are receiving. We think it's important to try to build on that.

I will close my comments there.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

I had an opportunity to attend a competition in Edmonton. I can't recall whether it was provincial or national. It was quite remarkable to see their enthusiasm. You mentioned 40 different trades in operation and having the young people participate. Those who accompanied them and were part of the crowd watching were really something to behold.

I would certainly encourage any members of the committee, if you have an opportunity to attend a provincial or a national skills competition, to do so. It really enthuses the youth. It's certainly a good way for them to get a feel for the trades.

You're doing a good job.

We'll start with five-minute rounds.

Monsieur Lapointe, go ahead.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Thank you Mr. Chair.

I will address you in French. Are the witnesses able to hear the simultaneous translation?

4:55 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

5 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

I will address most of my questions to Mr. Thorson. Mr. Atkinson, should something come to mind, you are most welcome to intervene.

To begin with, I heartily congratulate you. If I understand correctly, every year, 100,000 young people have entered the competition. It’s a wonderful initiative and it helps puts the situation in broader perspective for me.

There are a great number of dropouts amongst boys, at least in Quebec. The proportion of boys who don’t make it to grade 10 is now 40% in some regions.

I’m aware that this touches on education, an area of expertise often vested in the provinces. Nevertheless, is there a way to ensure that these young people can not only easily try a trade, along the lines of what you offer, but can also easily access trade schools?

5 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

Our program, especially the competition process, is focused primarily on people who are within the education system. But there are other activities available for people to participate in that are not connected to the education system. Some of the other activities I talked about—conferences hosted specifically for young women, and some of the try-a-trade activities—are open to the public. So they are not limited to people connected to the education system.

Through our organization there is the opportunity for people to participate in some of those activities.

May 16th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Based on what you know, should they discover they have a passion for something, is it easy for them to access training in it? I will give you a very simple example. I had an intern less than two years ago who loved handling the computing in connection with a project I was in charge of, but waited three years before enrolling in a technical trade school because it cost $12,000. There was nothing in the private sector allowing for his learning the skill, unless he had the academic background he didn’t have.

Consequently, collectively we lost a young man over a matter of $12,000. He had to wait three years before he could complete his training. Today he is working quite nicely. He makes a salary of approximately $35,000. Had he done this three years before, and had access to training, his productivity would not have been suspended over an amount of $12,000. The young people you focus on, the drop-outs, do they manage to get into places where they can learn a trade? If not, do they have difficulty accessing these resources?

5 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

It is not a primary focus for us. We are looking at programs like that within our provincial-territorial offices to try to address those people who are outside the system.

We are looking at trying to partner with some other organizations that have programs targeted at people who are not within the education system. That would link them to some of our activities and provide that sensory experience to encourage them to pursue some of those careers.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Atkinson, go ahead and make your point.

5 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

Some of our local construction associations run youth employment programs. Some people might call them pre-apprenticeship programs. If my memory is correct the one in Calgary, for example, run by the Calgary Construction Association with employers is for kids who have dropped out or have no other place to turn. It matches them with employers. To the extent that the show some potential, these employers will take them under their wing. They will sponsor them and try to get them back into trade schools to pursue particular trades. Of course, having close proximity to employers right from the get-go is great, because if the young person is successful they will probably have a first employer waiting to take them on when they graduate.

I know this is being used at the local level, not just for kids who dropped out of the system, but also in some northern communities with first nations and aboriginal youth as well.

5 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Do I have a few minutes left, Mr. Chair?