If there is one stereotype we as Edmontonians can all agree on it is the age-old joke that Alberta only has two seasons — winter and construction. Building Edmonton, a web-based guide developed by the City of Edmonton to help inform residents and businesses about planned infrastructure projects across the city, shows over 100 active construction projects happening right now. From neighbourhood renewal projects to the expansion of the LRT line and downtown core, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of jobs when it comes to construction.
According to The Construction Forecasts, an online delivery system that provides construction organizations with timely forecast data funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectorial Initiatives Program, construction employment rose in 2018 for the first time since 2015, and is expected to keep rising by 20,400 jobs between 2021 and 2028. For those considering a change in careers or are entering the workforce, Alberta’s construction and maintenance industry will need to hire and retain almost 59,500 workers over the coming decade to meet the demands of moderate growth and replace an estimated 40,800 workers expected to retire.
“I truly believe the future of construction is one that is thriving and strong with increased diversity and a greater representation of our population,” says D’Arcy Newberry, vice president and district manager, Chandos Construction. “It is a workforce that understands innovation and technology, and is attracting more youth, women, minorities, Indigenous peoples, and new Canadians.”
Since its inception in 1980, Chandos has grown into one of the largest mid-sized contractors in Canada. From the very start, the company has been 100 per cent employee-owned and focused on leading change in the Canadian construction industry. Not only were they named one of Alberta’s top 75 employers this year, but they were also selected as one of Canada’s best employers for recent graduates by The Career Directory.
Highlights for new or soon-to-be grads interested in applying at Chandos include paid internships and co-op opportunities, subsidies for professional accreditation, orientation programs, online and in-house training, mentoring, in-house career planning services and leadership training, a competitive starting salary, health benefits, flexible work hours and telecommuting. Employees even receive paid time off to volunteer. Typical entry positions for new grads include project coordinator, junior estimator, apprentice carpenter, accountant, and other corporate service roles.
With offices already located in Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Red Deer, Toronto and Edmonton, Chandos has significant plans to continue to grow over the next five to 10 years and will need to hire 500 new employees during this time.
“We know it will be a challenge, but we are putting in recruitment strategies to tap into alternative talent pools. Partnering with social enterprises, working with at risk youth, and finding new ways to attract women, Indigenous groups, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community is very important to us,” says Newberry. “As the first and largest B Corp certified commercial general contractor in North America it is at the core of what we do.”
B Corp certification measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. In order to become certified, businesses must meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
“We put a lot of time and energy into making sure we are holding true to our commitments and using our business as a force for good,” says Newberry.
Current projects for Chandos in Alberta include the rebuild of Edmonton’s beloved Roxy Theatre, the development of St. Joseph High School, the modernization of St. Patrick’s Community School in Red Deer, and a new wastewater treatment plant for Lloydminster. This project will have significant benefits for current and future generations along with the downstream cities, towns, villages and Indigenous communities that rely on the North Saskatchewan River.
“Part of our social responsibility is looking at how we can partner with local communities. For example, we’re rebuilding wastewater treatment facilities for Indigenous communities and want to employ local people on the job,” Newberry adds. “These systems were built 30 to 40 years ago, and there was no proper training put in place for Indigenous communities to maintain or operate them. Long-term boil water advisories are currently in effect for 56 First Nations across Canada, which is completely unacceptable — there is no way Canadians shouldn’t have fresh water. We are implementing training programs, so communities know how to maintain and operate treatment facilities. Chandos will be on call for the next several years at absolutely no cost to assist with training.”
Chandos is also a partner of NorQuest College’s Alberta Indigenous Construction Career Centre (AICCC), a unique service designed in 2014 to connect prospective Indigenous workers with employers recruiting for construction-related careers. Chandos collaborated with AICCC during the Norquest College Heritage Tower renovation project and trained and employed AICCC students — some of whom are still working with the company today.
“Since we opened our doors in 2015, we have provided over 260 Alberta employers with skilled Indigenous workers,” says Ruby Littlechild, AICCC manager.
From May 2018 to August of this year, the AICCC has trained 4,750 clients — many of whom travel from across Canada to attend the Centre’s services.
“We are seeing a specific demand in Edmonton for jobs with the LRT expansion and pipeline development. Our clients can be work ready and on site within two weeks,” Littlechild adds.
Not only does the AICCC train and connect Indigenous peoples with employers, like Chandos, they also offer resume development, job searching services, and one-on-one employment counselling.
“There are many avenues for youth wishing to explore a career in the trades,” says Kent Dietrich, workforce manager at PCL Builders Inc.
“With a lot of baby boomers retiring, it’s going to be a younger workforce, and hopefully more young people see the trades as a great and rewarding career. It’s definitely a partnership between public and private industry and both need to continue to promote careers in the trades because we’re going to need them.”
A pathway to a trade certificate can take many different directions. PCL has employees who joined with no construction experience and are now registered apprentices working towards journeyperson status.
“Our industry faces challenges attracting young people into the trades, and programs such as the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), provide exposure, opportunities and career options within the trades,” adds Dietrich.
Supported by most high schools in the province, the RAP program provides students with the opportunity to gain high school credits while pursuing a trade ticket through on the job training. According to Dietrich, PCL has many long-term employees who started their careers as RAP students and have gone on to achieve their Journeyperson certification.
“Although our industry has slowed down, skilled trades are still in high demand. As the economy recovers, we’ll be challenged to find the people to build our upcoming projects,” Dietrich concludes.
PCL Builders Inc. is one of Edmonton’s most preferred commercial and civil infrastructure employers that hires and oversees many of the tradespeople working on project sites across the city and Northern Alberta. PCL is currently accepting resumes for journeyman carpenters, concrete finishers, and labourers for upcoming long-term work on marquee projects in the Edmonton area, and throughout the province.
It looks like the construction industry in Alberta, and opportunities to become a skilled worker within it, will be booming for quite some time.