Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, committee, for inviting me here to speak. It's a real pleasure.
I represent the Toronto Community Benefits Network. We are a 99-member organization and growing, a coalition of community organizations, grassroots groups and social enterprises, unions, construction trades training centres and workforce development agencies. Nine of the largest union training centres are members of the TCBN.
We negotiate community benefits agreements into major infrastructure projects, and together as a coalition and with our partners and key stakeholders we are making collective impact.
In the fall of 2017, TCBN undertook a labour market analysis, funded by the Ontario government, to identify strategies to address the workforce development needs of employers and employees in sectors supporting access of under-represented groups to trades and jobs and to procurement opportunities in the construction industry.
Our analysis included both secondary and primary research. First, an environmental scan and document review were undertaken to ground the research and to learn about the trends and opportunities, challenges and best practices and contextual information to interpret the needs of the industry in this area.
The construction industry, as you know, is booming, fuelled in large part by hundreds of billions of dollars of investment of taxpayer dollars into infrastructure projects over the next 10 to 12 years. The industry is one of the largest employers in Canada. Within the unionized construction sector, it provides well-paying jobs with benefits and pensions.
The sector has been described by researchers as one of the most complex and problematic arenas within which to manage people. The structure of construction workplaces, outsourcing, subcontracting, and start-up of flexible firms, leads to the employment relationship's being characterized by separation, conflict, informality and reluctance to embrace change. Structural and cultural impediments to equality, diversity and inclusion and work-life balance exist in the sector, leading to discriminatory cultures, outmoded procurement processes and informal networks.
Once the environmental scan was conducted, TCBN conducted further research.
All lines of evidence throughout TCBN's consultation process confirmed that indeed there is a skills gap in the construction industry. This skills gap was identified at all levels of the industry, from entry-level positions as apprentices to project management experience.
We have seven recommendations from that research, which I have also attached to the paper I presented to you.
There is an untapped labour pool of people from diverse communities that have been historically overlooked in the construction industry who could meet this need. Toronto is 51% visible minorities; Ontario is 32%; Canada is 22%, up from 11% in 1996—doubled in the last 20 years.
In our society, women make up at least 50% of the possible labour market. This reality, though, is not reflected in the industry. The Government of Ontario, in its report on the need to modernize the apprenticeship system, identified that of those registered with the Ontario College of Trades, only 4.4% are women, 1.9% aboriginals and 1.2% racialized apprentices.
Our research built upon TCBN's work during the past two years in supporting the implementation of the community benefits framework for the Eglinton Crosstown construction project.
Community Benefits is proving to be a process to intentionally address the issues of under-representation in the trades. Community Benefits requires the contractor of a project, especially when they're funded by taxpayer dollars, to source from the local labour pool.
The Eglinton Crosstown LRT project runs through many of Toronto's low-income and priority neighbourhoods, and the project has an aspirational goal to hire apprentices and journeypersons from historically disadvantaged groups to perform 10% of all trade or craft working hours on the project. This was negotiated with our Community Benefits coalition.
The partners at the table with the Metrolinx Community Benefits working group have designed and are implementing outreach, support and monitoring mechanisms to track the progress of community members along the pathway and to identify and address challenges that arise. In working through the challenges of building up such a system, TCBN and its partners now recognize that all sectors involved need greater awareness of their strategic roles as well as knowledge, skills and resources to fulfill what is essentially a workforce development strategy for the construction sector.
The Eglinton Crosstown project is starting to show good outcomes, with more than 100 apprentices hired to date and 150 professional, administrative and technical workers hired. It hasn't reached the 10% goal that we had anticipated, but we have more time and we're developing processes. This is what the community benefits process allows us to do.
We celebrate the achievement of each individual. We are proud to tell the story of Ahmed, a young Somali resident of the Mount Dennis community who took an interest in learning a trade after hearing about Community Benefits. He connected with Chris, from Carpenters' Local 27, who saw mentorship as a key to the success of an apprentice such as Ahmed.
Now in his third term, Ahmed is the first of 100 apprentices who have been hired on the Eglinton Crosstown project through the Community Benefits program. Soon, Ahmed will be a mentor in TCBN's NextGen Builders program. He's going to be a journeyperson. This program was developed in partnership with the LiUNA African American Canadian Caucus. We are achieving collective impact by working with the industry.
Interestingly, as a newcomer to Canada, Ahmed did not qualify for Ontario Works and could not access many of the supports available through federal, provincial or municipal bodies to access employment services or pre-apprenticeship training. His experience entering the trades was unnecessarily chaotic and harsh.
This example demonstrates the need for government to reduce the artificial eligibility requirements and burdens that are inherent in the current system for newcomers to seek employment.
Just as important, Canada has already invested in welcoming generations of immigrants to our country. Many of these first- and second-generation immigrants, many of them citizens now, continue to be under-represented and marginalized in the labour market. We need to address that situation.
In conclusion, TCBN supports this study on labour shortages to identify the gaps that contractors are facing sourcing skilled trades from the local labour pool. We would add that this study must include an equity, diversity and gender lens.
Further, we recommend that a diversity panel be established, led by senior provincial leaders and subject matter experts in construction, workforce development, diversity and inclusion, and by stakeholders with lived experience. It is so important to meet with those folks who are dealing with the issues on the ground.
The panel's long-term goal would be to ensure that all construction workplaces engaged in publicly funded projects have the knowledge, skill systems and resources in place and are operationalizing diversity and inclusion practices that match or exceed local and global best practices in construction or other workplaces.
The study would build on Canada's leadership with the invest in Canada infrastructure program, of which I'm sure you're all aware, which is a good start for the federal government to develop standards that the industry can buy into and begin to innovate in so as to accelerate systemic change.
The program sets out the criteria for reporting of the community employment benefits achieved by implicated infrastructure projects receiving funding under the program stream.
The next opportunity that is coming up is for the government to pass Bill C-344 at the Senate. If passed, this would require contractors to report on community benefits to the local community. As such, contractors of federal infrastructure projects would be required to engage early with the local labour pool and prioritize the hiring of under-represented groups. Industry leaders in diversity and inclusion are also cautioning that true inclusion requires steps and processes that take time and persistence.
With the bill passed, the next step would be to invest more strategically in training and educating newcomers and under-represented populations about the opportunities and the process to access these opportunities. Investment is required for more pre-apprenticeship programs.
This is an opportunity for under-represented groups to get their foot in, because they have no prior experience and access in the industry. They don't have a mom, a dad, a brother or an uncle in the industry. That's right now how the industry recruits for members.
Let's demystify something. There is demand from under-represented groups to access jobs and opportunities in the industry. TCBN alone has over 600 people in our database who have expressed an interest in the jobs and opportunities created through Community Benefits. Our partners from the vast network of employment services agencies in Toronto will also confirm that they have waiting lists.
Most historically under-represented groups in the trades are experiencing high levels of unemployment in their local communities, sometimes double or triple the national average. We look at that at TCBN and we see this as a massive opportunity: untapped labour that you can call on. We need the opportunities to be opened up for them.
Canada had no problem more than 80 years ago in figuring out how to rapidly attract women into non-traditional jobs when the Second World War presented a labour shortage in male-dominated occupations. The period required to develop and implement the strategy was approximately five years, and that was during wartime. Within the construction industry, we have 10 to 12 years.
We know the investment is there. Here is our opportunity to take that leadership by providing the appropriate incentives and supports to attract our women, racialized and immigrant workforce into the trades.