• December CEO Blog - Labour Shortage in Saskatchewan's Construction Industry

    December 2, 2021

    Labour Challenges in the Construction Industry
    Introducing the Hard-to-Fill Skills Pilot program

    Happy December everyone! It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the end of 2021 already. It has been another crazy year. Perhaps the best example of the challenge that the last year has been comes in looking at our industry. A year ago, our industry was hungry for work. Today, there’s enough work out there and on the way that our industry is facing an acute labour shortage. While some of us did see this coming, I don’t think any of us expected it to happen this year. 
    Labour shortages aren’t new in construction. Many of you have been through several economic cycles like this. Me personally, I’ve just been through one. Still, there were lessons to be learned from that one cycle. Lessons that could have helped make it less likely we’d find ourselves in another cycle. Nevertheless, here we are. Again.
    Earlier this week leaders from your five associations met at the Legislature with MLAs and Ministers to talk about the challenges facing the construction industry. We talked about supply chain issues, and we discussed the importance of construction in enabling growth and investment in other sectors, but most of the time was spent talking about workforce issues and the current and impending labour shortage. 
    These challenges weren’t news to the MLAs. They’ve been hearing similar concerns from other industries and from construction companies in their home constituencies. The MLAs have been thinking about these issues and trying to come up with options to make sure we can train and develop a Saskatchewan-based workforce that can meet the needs of our employers in the years to come.
    In a way, there are two challenges to address here. The first is the short-term labour crunch. How do we find enough people to do the work over the next three years? What interventions are needed to make it easier for employers during this time? The second challenge is more structural and longer-term. How do we get ourselves off the roller-coaster of labour and develop a higher baseline of steady employment within the construction industry?
    It is almost too late to do anything about the short-term problem. You can’t train a journeyperson in the short-term, and many of our traditional sources of labour are also stressed right now. For the most part, the short-term problem is simply going to have to be addressed by market forces. A smaller labour pool will drive wages up, which will drive up project pricing, which will suppress some projects from coming to market, which will in turn alleviate some of the demand pressure on the labour side. While this will “work itself out” to some extent, it won’t happen overnight. Saskatchewan is facing a three-to-five-year labour crunch that will likely be reminiscent of the one we came out of about seven years ago.
    One avenue for support in the short-term is immigration, and the Government of Saskatchewan just last week took a positive step in making this process easier for construction employers. Any of you that went through the previous boom would be somewhat familiar with the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP). This provincial-driven program was by far the best way for Saskatchewan employers to quickly source skilled workers from across the globe. It appears that SINP is ramping up again with the new “Hard-To-Fill Skills Pilot” program. This pilot will make it easier and faster for employers to recruit workers from overseas in targeted industries. Construction is included on this list. Thanks to the Government of Saskatchewan for responding quickly to industry demand in this area and revitalizing an essential pathway to skilled workers.
    If you, as an employer, are interested in exploring SINP for recruitment purposes please note that it applies to both skilled workers and entry-level positions. You’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve tried to fill the position locally. Although I haven’t worked with SINP recently, when we did work with them during the last boom cycle, they were fantastic to work with. I would expect a similar experience today. Reach out to me at and let me know if you’re thinking about engaging with SINP.
    While the short-term pressure will be more challenging to relieve, the long-term fix is obvious. We need to do a better job of telling the story of construction and attracting Saskatchewan’s young people – especially our Indigenous youth – into careers in our industry. More importantly, we need to do this year-in and year-out, regardless of where we are in our economic cycle.
    Your associations have called for a government-industry collaboration on this issue. We intend to strike a permanent working group with a mandate to address the long-term workforce needs of the construction industry. This working group will need to include representation from the construction industry, from our post-secondary training institutions, from our Indigenous communities, from our school systems, and from government. The existence of the working group, and its funding support, will need to survive this boom period and carry on throughout the next economic softening. This was the mistake we made last time, and we’re determined not to make it again.

    Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

    President and CEO
    Saskatchewan Construction Association