Labour supply crucial2/12/2013
A global economy and a mobile workforce means Nova Scotia has to do a better job at attracting and retaining skilled labour, says the head of the Mainland Nova Scotia Building and Construction Trades Council.
Brad Smith left his post as vice-president of the Greater Halifax Partnership last summer to take on his new role as executive director of the trades council. It represents more than 10,000 professional craftspeople working with 200 or so employers.
“Nova Scotia used to have to compete for capital, then we had to compete for companies and now that our labour force is a mobile workforce, we have to compete for labour, and that means good-paying jobs for a group that is fundamentally, our middle class,” Smith said in an interview today.
After more than a decade leading public-private business development and working with businesses on retention, expansion and investment attraction, he said he a had light-bulb moment when the opportunity arose for him to work on the supply side of economics to help drive provincial prosperity.
Boosting the skilled labour supply in Nova Scotia figures front and centre on Smith’s agenda, but he also hopes to dispel some long-standing industry myths.
“The big myth is that there’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople in the non-residential building sector in Nova Scotia. But looking at the broad economic perspective, how can we have a skills shortage when we lose 3,500 people to out-migration every year and we have an unemployment rate that’s close to 10 per cent?”
About 15 per cent of skilled tradespeople in Nova Scotia are commuters who swoop in to do the job and leave when it is done. Add to that the fact that weekly wages in the construction sector are 24 per cent less than the national average and it is no surprise that skilled tradespeople flee, Smith said.
“So is it a skills shortage or a shortage of good-paying jobs? We don’t have to match wages, but we have to close the gap. There’s a huge opportunity here and we have to tighten the gap if we’re going to keep the skilled labour we want here.”
The key is finding what he calls a “dynamic balance” of employers operating in a competitive market while providing a sufficient income and benefits to attract a skilled workforce.
There are also myths surrounding craft unions Smith hopes to dispel.
American studies show unionized contractors are better trained and consistently more productive than their non-union counterparts, which he said translates into better-quality work done right the first time.
“In the building trades, you’re only as good as your last job. So to bring in business metrics to focus on quality, productivity and safety is the key. People recognize that on paper, but I’m not sure if everyone understands that’s how building trades work.”