We presently have a housing crisis in Ontario. Unfortunately, we also have a labour crunch.
More than 100,000 skilled trades workers in the province are expected to retire over the next decade. This will leave a gaping hole in the construction industry unless we get more people into the trades. In the residential sector, we are already short of some voluntary trades with specialized skill sets.
Shortages are expected in several trades in residential construction as domestic training and hiring alone will not be enough to keep up with the increasing demand for housing and infrastructure.
Which brings me to my point. We can’t build the housing we need unless we also have the skilled labour to do the work.
The province has stepped up with several programs aimed at getting more youth, women and people from BIPOC and underrepresented communities into the skilled trades. Additional recruiters will be going into high schools to raise awareness of the trades and the government is providing $275 million to a program that will help offset training costs for another 240,000 jobseekers.
These initiatives will certainly help on the domestic front.
But the trades have traditionally relied on immigration to make up the numbers. That situation has not changed. If we are to have a pipeline of trades for the future, we must act now to fix the problem.
The federal government can help by stepping in to allow more workers with skilled trades backgrounds to immigrate to Canada. RESCON recently outlined the rationale for taking such action in a 2022 federal pre-budget submission made to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
We called on the federal government to reform the immigration system and increase the annual intake of skilled immigrants under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) to 18,000 from 9,000.
We also want the federal government to give greater autonomy to the provincial minister responsible for immigration to make it easier for Ontario to bring in immigrants with specialized skill sets.
We must make it easier for immigrants with international experience in voluntary trades in the residential sector, in particular, to come to work and live in Ontario.
In the past, Canada’s immigration system has disproportionately recognized immigrants who have certain education credentials, certificates and language skills. Meantime, foreign-trained construction workers, especially in the voluntary trades, are overlooked and not eligible for immigration.
This must change.
The construction industry accounts for nearly eight per cent of Ontario’s GDP. It is a significant driver of Ontario’s economy, employing more than 400,000 workers directly, along with creating another 600,000 to 800,00 jobs in the supply chain and industries that cater to construction workers. We need the construction industry to remain healthy to keep our economic recovery on track.
All levels of government now appear committed to fixing the housing supply problem. But it can only be accomplished if we have the necessary supply of skilled trades workers to do the work. It is imperative, then, that the federal government accept RESCON’s recommendation and permit more workers with construction-related backgrounds and skills to immigrate to Canada and fill the void.
Canada has the lowest amount of housing per capita of any G7 country. Ontario faces the biggest shortage of the provinces. Another 1.2 million homes would need to be built for Ontario to catch up to our international peers.
The social welfare and health implications of inadequate and restricted housing supply are massive – easily in the billions of dollars.
To substantially increase our stock of housing, we need more skilled trades. Immigration plays a large part in that effort.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected].