Guest post by Brad Smith
The non-residential building sector, which includes industrial and commercial construction, produces over 10% of Nova Scotia’s annual gross domestic product. Such a large contribution to our economy indicates the significant and positive impact professional trades make to our province.
In the next number of months, I intend on traveling throughout Nova Scotia to discuss just that and to debunk some of the myths and misperceptions that have been mistakenly associated with this sector
In Nova Scotia, the most prominent myth is that there is a skills shortage in the province. Economic statistics paint a different story. Consider the following. We have all heard the stories, or experienced friends and family leaving the province to find work. In fact the province loses about 3,500 people each year to out-migration. Additionally we have an unemployment rate close to 10 percent and youth unemployment close to 20%. One of the founding principles of labour economics is people stay, or leave dependent upon the job opportunities available in an area. We see evidence of this everyday within Nova Scotia in the shrinking of rural communities. Many people want to live in rural communities but there are few who can do so without work. The same principle applies to us as a province as we see the loss of our best to other jurisdictions across Canada.
Specifically in the building trades there is further evidence to debunk the skill shortage myth, specifically the professional skilled tradespeople. In Nova Scotia, about 15 percent of the Building Trades skilled tradespeople are commuters, meaning they travel outside NS to go to work and return on bi-weekly or monthly rotations. They don’t do this because they want to spend extended time away from their family. They do so out of economic necessity. Is there further data to explain why this is happening? In a province with one of the highest costs of living, Nova Scotia has the second lowest average weekly wages in Canada. And if you break down the statistics even further you find that the construction sector’s weekly wages in Nova Scotia is 24 percent less than the national average.
So what’s the real challenge here? Is it a skills shortage, or a shortage of good-paying jobs?
This province has a highly skilled sought after workforce. But they are leaving for other, better paying opportunities. If we want to retain our skilled workers, we don’t have to match wages, but we must close the gap. In a global competitive market we have to compete for capital, we have to compete for business, and we need to provide a sufficient income and benefits to attract and retain skilled professionals. Retaining our skilled professionals means more people in this province will be supported by salaries, health benefits and pensions and will give back to our community.
About the Author:
Brad Smith is the Executive Director of the Mainland Nova Scotia Building and Construction Trades Council which provides highly-skilled professional tradespeople for contractors and owners, promotes and develops business for its members, and provides a united, powerful voice to issues affecting the trades.