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B.C.’s booming construction sector at risk of slowdown, industry warns

British Columbia’s construction industry is warning that business is booming — but there are storm clouds on the horizon.

The B.C. Construction Association says a chronic labour shortage, combined with outdated regulations about paying contractors on time could combine to cause a major slowdown.

“There is this critical shortage of workers across the province, and we need to (do) what we can to send the right messages to those workers and contractors in B.C. that this is the place they should come to live, to work, and to build our province,” association president Chris Atchison told Global News.

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B.C. aims to remove barriers for international professionals

Atchison said that up to 40 per cent of workers in the construction industry are up for retirement in the next decade.

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While the sector is targeting young people, immigrants and groups that haven’t traditionally though of construction as a career opportunity, he said those efforts won’t be enough.

“Even if we are to meet our targets of attraction and retention, in 10 years time from now we’re still looking at about a 6,000 worker shortage in B.C.,” he said.

On top of the worker shortage, the industry is pointing to lax regulations around payment that allow some contractors to wait months to be paid for services rendered.

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Flush toilets coming to B.C. construction sites

The association is calling on the provincial government to implement “prompt payment” legislation which would set firm timetables.

“Very often right now we have contractors throughout B.C. who may not be being paid for work they have done for 90 up to 120 days, sometimes even 270 days on proper invoices that have been received.

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“What we’re seeing in other jurisdictions is upon proper receipt of an invoice for services received that contractors are being paid within a 28-day to 30-day period, which is standard expectations of a civil society, frankly.”

Sechelt Mayor John Henderson told Global News the construction industry’s concerns are clearly visible at the ground level.

He said construction crews in his community are at their capacity — and booked up with work for several years to come. Those delays, he said, are adding to the cost of builds, particularly amid high interest rates.

“We’ve got to find ways of building structures, whether its pre-built, pre-fab kits, 3D-printing, something that has to be done because we can’t rely on the conventional approach to building,” he said.

“We’ve got to convince people it’s a great career, a great job for people — we’re really short of people who are able to do that kind of work who have the skills, so it’s probably as much about the industrial training, perhaps there’s some job retraining opportunities.”

On Monday, the B.C. government introduced new legislation aimed at reducing barriers for skilled workers to have foreign credentials recognized.

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Premier David Eby touted the legislation as key to getting immigrants to work in high-priority sectors.

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“We’ve recruited you, we want you to come here, but we actually want you to be able to use the skills we recruited you for,” Eby said.

But he said the province was still working with Ottawa when it comes to prioritizing immigration based on areas of the economy plagued by labour shortages.

“We’ve been pushing hard with the federal government to increase the number of people where the province has some control over particular categories of workers that are in high demand areas, including construction,” he said.

Atchison, too, said reform is needed when it comes to targeting construction workers through Canada’s immigration system.

He said the industry wants to see Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada change the points system it uses to assess would-be immigrants to give greater priority to skilled trades workers.

“There are thousands of people wanting to come to Canada with the skilled trade qualifications that we desire that we just haven’t been letting in and we can do better,” he said.

“We need to be more receptive to hearing them and wanting them to come work on the projects.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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