EDITORIAL: Building Squamish

Editor’s note: The Chief’s weekly editorial represents the official opinion of the paper.

Construction workers have become as common a sight in Squamish as climbers and mountain bikers.

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And with several major projects underway and others set to put shovels in the ground, it is likely hard hats will continue to compete with touques and bike helmets in line at the café.

This could be a boon for our youth, allowing them to transition out of high school into training and then to a local job. However the British Columbia Construction Association says there are nowhere near enough people going into the trades to meet the growing demand.

The organization’s recent survey found that 68 per cent of employers said finding skilled workers is their biggest challenge. They also can’t find managers to replace those who are retiring.

This is a complex issue with no magic solution.

And local developers tell us that while it is currently hard to find workers, the market has begun to slow down. Nonetheless, most agree the popularity of the trades as a career option has dwindled compared to a generation ago.

What can be done about it?

It starts at home with parents exposing children to the viable option of trades.

Currently, many say there’s an out of whack push for youth to attend university and stigma if trades are chosen instead.

Even Mike Holmes Jr.  (son of the TV guy) has talked of the stigma surrounding construction jobs. There’s a #EndSkilledTradesStigma hashtag, for goodness sake. Why?

What is more honourable or essential to society than literally building it?

Once kids are encouraged to consider trades, ideally high schools are able to supply eager students with the latest equipment and courses.

Currently, of the 287 public secondary schools in B.C., 146  — including Howe Sound Secondary — offer some ACE-IT courses. These courses give students the first level of the technical training in an Industry Training Authority (ITA) program and may lead to apprenticeships.

Locally, the construction-related offerings are limited to carpentry.

Exposing students to more options would be a positive move.

And, what about a post-secondary trade school in town — perhaps on the oceanfront? It is an idea floated in previous years, but have we hit the sweet spot where it is now viable?

Also, to attract and retain a diverse workforce, employers need to ensure the work environment prioritizes safety and battles the “bro” culture that turns off some from entering or staying in the construction sector. [General construction injuries result in the second most claims with WorkSafeBC for loss of time at work.]

Finally, housing is a major impediment to attracting people to Squamish construction jobs, local builders say.  Several Squamish construction workers were living in tents or vans last summer while they built homes for others. How crazy is that?

Whether or not the current acute labour shortage lasts, there is much to gain by making Squamish a place where skilled construction trades crews can live, learn, build and play.

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