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Immigrant workers are a critical part of the residential construction industry

by Richard Lyall on 22 Jul 2022

With more and more construction workers retiring, the pipeline of labour and skilled trades is shrinking. 

Ontario's construction sector will need to recruit about 71,800 new workers over the next six years to keep pace with retirements in the industry. 

Thousands of additional construction workers will need to be hired, trained and retained to replace these retiring workers and keep up with the demand for much-needed housing and infrastructure. 

However, building a skilled and experienced workforce is not something that can happen overnight. Construction is increasingly embracing new building practices and adopting new technologies. It takes many years to train new workers and apprentices with the skills needed to work in the industry.

Domestic training and hiring alone will not offset potential labour shortages. To fill future construction positions, while building up capacity for the future, we need to attract more immigrants and foreign-trained construction workers, especially those with specialized skill sets to work in the residential sector as the province has committed to building 1.5 million homes over the next decade.

Premier Doug Ford is making immigration an issue. He rightly pointed out at his first media availability following the recent provincial election that Ontario is in desperate need of people to fill available jobs.

The premier noted there are backlogs at the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship which need to be moved forward quicker than what’s happening right now. 

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton also weighed in on the issue. He is advocating for a Quebec-style immigration system that would give Ontario more control over the individuals it can bring in. With the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement expiring this fall, he wants more of a say in the immigrants that are selected to fill jobs. 

The province has been advocating for years to expand the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP). Last year, 9,000 newcomers were selected under the program. McNaughton is advocating for that number to be doubled to 18,000 annually.

Such a move would certainly be a step in the right direction for the construction industry. Reforming the OINP would help to ensure that we can recruit and retain skilled talent from abroad to work in the construction industry. 

In addition to higher numbers, proposed reforms to the OINP must also include allocating more seats to general labourers and removing administrative burdens for employers. 

The recent federal budget included plans to improve Canada’s ability to select applicants that match changing labour force needs in consultation with the provinces and territories. The current federal point system is a potential barrier to bringing in immigrant construction workers, as it disproportionately favours applicants with formal education, certificates, language skills and financial resources. Some trades are not recognized as a category and do not qualify for entry yet are in great demand within the construction industry.

The point system must be adjusted so that the bias against construction workers is removed. Most foreign-trained construction workers, especially in the voluntary trades which make up over half the trades in residential construction, are not required to be licensed and do not have certifications.

RESCON, along with other industry associations, has requested that the federal government double the number of seats allocated to the OINP, grant greater autonomy to the provincial minister responsible for immigration to allocate OINP seats to specific industries based on labour market needs, and reclassify and prioritize codes so that general labourers with verifiable experience and secured sponsorship can qualify.

Residential builders in Ontario rely on workers with specialized skill sets. We can not build the much-needed housing without them. These workers are a critical part of the residential industry.

The construction industry is in a war for talent. We need to tweak our immigration system to make sure it is helping rather than hindering the cause.

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]



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