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February 6, 2013

Trades help build Canada's brand

Guest Column | Ross McLean

Diane Francis of the Financial Post recently wrote a column from Davos Switzerland entitled "The Nation-State as Brand Beats State as Conqueror" (Financial Post Jan. 25, 2013).

The premise of the article is that nations are increasingly counting on their brand appeal in an effort to obtain a bigger share of the global marketplace.

Depending on the nation, the brand could encompass anything including promoting free enterprise and enabling a cheap workforce. Although not specifically mentioned in her column, it occurred to me that Canada has a very strong world brand—one that benefits every Canadian.

Stable governance, stable finances, and a highly educated and skilled workforce are associated with Canada’s brand.

Ross McLean

Guest Column

Ross McLean

One of the most significant sectors of that educated Canadian workforce, both in size and talent, would be the construction trades. While often taken for granted by the public at large, project leaders world-wide have long recognized how highly skilled the Canadian construction trades are.

They evidence this by hiring them for their projects across the globe.

Our top notch training and national Red Seal qualifications are highly sought after, providing our skilled workers with global opportunities.

As industrial and commercial construction heats up in western Canada, and baby boomers start retiring, the federal and provincial governments are coming to grips with a current and future shortage of these highly skilled construction trades.

The result is a capacity problem for major projects.

We need more of those great construction trades workers to get the mines and ports and infrastructure built that will ultimately provide thousands of more jobs for all Canadians. However, in sourcing those workers, we must endeavor to keep our nation’s brand strong.

It is vital that we not let our current challenge around capacity negatively impact the capability of our future workers. We must continue to support our strong culture of trades training with nationally recognized apprenticeship qualifications. We must also work hard to attract our youth into the trades and, when we can’t find enough Canadians to meet our needs, we must recruit and welcome world class trades from those countries that similarly support solid trades training systems comparable to our own.

After all, the foreign trained journeyperson you place on the job today could well be training the Canadian journeypersons of tomorrow.

The B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) and its regional construction associations have worked with the provincial and federal governments to develop successful programs designed to help British Columbians find jobs in the construction industry that lead to trades qualifications.

The Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP), for example, has placed more than 6,000 British Columbians in construction jobs.

In addition, the association has stepped in to assist its members in sourcing foreign skilled workers, when there are no Canadians available for the job, with its Foreign Skilled Worker B.C. initiative at www.fswbc.com.

The association researches and compares trades training in the country of choice before any recruitment effort to ensure that the skill sets match up as closely as possible to the demands of the Canadian workplace.

They then assist the employer with bringing that skilled worker into B.C., ideally on a permanent basis.

Strong support for apprentices, programs to help British Columbians get into the trades and careful, well-researched recruitment that leads to new skilled Canadians, will go a long way towards ensuring our brand message of a well-educated workforce continues long into the future.

We will stay productive, build and maintain our infrastructure, and keep our economy strong for future generations.

As Diane Francis pointed out, “The good brands will win and the poor brands will be punished.”

Ross McLean is a director of Houle Electric and current chair of BCCA. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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