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Building trades returning to B.C.
Employers in Alberta aim job website at out-migration

Jenny Lee
Vancouver Sun

May 2, 2005

The Alberta Home Builders Association has posted a job website in a bid to keep that province's construction workers from moving to B.C.'s booming construction market, a B.C. industry leader reports.

"They [the Alberta builders] are getting to the point now where they are starting to feel the pinch," Peter Simpson of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association said in an interview.

A news release from the Alberta Home Builders' Association calls the Alberta Builder Connect website a response to a shortage of workers in all areas of the new home sector.

"With housing starts in Alberta showing no sign of letting up, the province's home builders are finding it increasingly difficult to connect with industry-related workers," the release states.

"It's not just tradespeople that are in demand: Builders are also dealing with a short supply of new- home salespeople, architectural technologists, designers, marketers and administrative personnel."

Simpson believes the numbers of construction workers heading west will continue to grow. Nor is he worried that the site will lure workers away from B.C., which is facing its own shortage of skilled workers.

"If you had a choice where you would rather live?" he said, adding: "For some of the trades, our rates are $5 to $10 higher than Alberta's," Simpson said.

On one Lower Mainland job site at least, he's been told that experienced carpenters can earn up to $35 a hour where two years ago the wage was $25 an hour.

Dale Barron, president of Morningstar Homes in Coquitlam, said that B.C. workers have been returning to the province from Alberta after five to seven years away. Now Albertans are coming too, lured by the promise of work and lifestyle benefits.

"I have a salesman joining me in a month from Alberta," Barron said. "He senses the economy in B.C. will give him long-term employment.

"Many of these people are workers who left B.C. when there was no work here," Simpson said. "We really couldn't get these people back until recently because they were in good-paying secure jobs in other jurisdictions and there was no incentive for them to come home."

"Now the weather's getting nicer and they are finding out the opportunities are immense here, not only with home-building activity right across the Lower Mainland, but work ramping up to the 2010 Olympics. They are starting to find it an attractive place to come back to. Many of them are simply coming home."

B.C. needs more construction workers, but "there's no panic mode just yet," Simpson said.

"Right across the board, there's some pressure. I don't get anybody phoning me up in a mad panic because they can't get workers in any capacity. As far as the website builders have in Alberta, we applaud them for doing that, but we don't have plans to follow suit."

Instead, B.C. stakeholders are working to develop trades training for youth, and the Vancouver builders' association is considering participating in an established careers website with a broader scope.

Construction workers started to leave B.C. in the late 1990s.

"It hit absolute bottom in 2000 with only 8,203 [Lower Mainland] housing starts," Simpson said. "It's been climbing steadily since 2000. Last year, we ended with 19,435. The forecast for this year is just a tad over 20,000, so it's a robust market for homebuilding and it will continue to be for commercial/industrial as well.

"Of course we need the workers. They left in droves and now they are starting to come back very quietly."

Housing starts grew 18.9 per cent across urban B.C. in March, and while total starts decreased strongly in some areas, they grew 51.2 per cent in the Lower Mainland and 53.3 per cent in Victoria, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 168,200 jobs in the B.C. construction industry in March, 37,000 more than in March the previous year.

British Columbia has about $62 billion in major projects lined up over the next decade. Genstar Development Co. and the Madison Group plan to create a city-scale development that could double the size of Mission. Westbank Projects Corp. has begun construction on B.C.'s tallest high-rise, the 60-storey Living Shangri-La tower downtown.


Alberta's construction workers are being tempted to head west by numbers such as these:

19,435: B.C. housing starts in 2004

20,000: B.C. housing starts forecast for 2005

168,200: Jobs in the B.C. construction industry in March

37,000: Increase in B.C. building jobs from March 2004

$62 billion: Value of major B.C. projects lined up over the next decade.

Source: GVHBA

Ran with fact box "B.C.'s Building Boom", which has beenappended to the end of the story.
© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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We need these workers for so many projects or else we will be short for 2010 projects and other 2010-related projects. Tens and tens and tens and tens of thousands of workers are needed to build the RAV line, Sea-to-Sky highway improvements, Athletes Villages, Olympic venues, the convention centre, and many more.
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