A partnership between the Construction Association and the P.E.I. Association of Newcomers to  Canada is proving to be a win-win for everybody involved. 

Since his industry has been facing a labour shortage well before COVID-19 made an appearance, Sam Sanderson was quick to realize attracting new immigrants to construction and related trades  was a key component for long-term growth. The general manager of the Construction Association approached the Newcomers, where he began working with Melaine Bailey on a number of fronts. 

Their first foray was to secure partners and funding to set up a pilot project two years ago offering an orientation course to the trades with the aim of convincing participants to consider working in the sector. It proved to be a resounding success. 

“Some of the graduates have gone on to jobs while others are pursuing further training,” Sanderson says. “We also had one or two entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses.” 

Along the way, he cemented personal and professional friendships and quickly became convinced  the way to growth and survival for the sector lay with attracting more new Islanders and workers. “When I say survival, I am not exaggerating,” Sanderson says. “Projections call for a shortage of 1,500 workers in construction and related trades by 2030 as people retire and demand grows. Newcomers are our only resource to create new opportunities.” 

Earlier this year, the association opened a 2,000 sq. ft.  training centre in Charlottetown to help offer hands-on experience to people seeking to enter the trade. Sanderson says the association is also hoping recently acquired virtual reality equipment can be used at both the centre and taken to schools will help attract more young people into the trade. 

“This is a high technology industry,” Sanderson says. “We are hoping to have a greater presence in the schools as well after COVID is no longer a factor. This is a problem we’re tackling on a number of fronts.” 

While many of the activities associated with construction centre on manual labour, he says there are also opportunities to use robotics and drones (he says many areas uses drones for site inspections although the practice isn’t common on P.E.I. yet), and the association hopes to use that fact to lure more people into the industry. 

Building on the success of the pilot project, Sanderson says they’ve received federal funding to  offer a “skilled newcomers in construction program” through a number of sessions between now and October. Sanderson says as of mid-May, the first class of 12 had signed on to the program with another session set to begin June 8. By fall, he is hoping that number will be approaching 60. 

“This is not an introductory course,” he says. “These are highly skilled people who were involved with the industry in their home country and we are helping them to earn their credentials in Canada.” 

The program is geared to all facets of the industry and the participants include engineers, architects, and safety professionals. The program includes eight weeks of classroom training and a paid eight week work experience. The participants earn safety training certifications, receive 30 hours of instruction on the National Building Code for residential construction, and receive presentations on blueprint reading and tendering. 

The association has also developed a strong partnership with P.E.I. Connectors, an initiative of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, which has expanded across the province. The program offers a host of support services to businesses owned and operated by immigrants and also connects new Islanders with established businesspeople for networking and mentorship. 

Sanderson is excited about a contract the association recently signed with Sunrise Immigration, a Charlottetown-based company that’s the authorized immigration intermediary of both the P.E.I. and New Brunswick governments. According to its website, the company “is dedicated to providing professional and efficient immigration services to a wide range of clients, including branches of the provincial and federal governments, investors, and general skilled immigration candidates.” 

Sanderson says Sunrise will be actively recruiting for the member companies of the association around the world and will guide prospective workers through the immigration process. 

“They have the expertise and the contacts. This is going to be a huge win for our industry,” Sanderson says. 

Even before the agreement with Sunrise was finalized, Sanderson says some of his members were doing some international recruiting on their own. The association runs a job site called islandbuilder.ca that advertises positions in construction and related industries across the Island and Sanderson says there are usually hundreds of listings. 

For her part, Bailey says the association has been a great partner to work with and she is optimistic about what the future holds. Building partnerships is a major part of her job as the coordinator of the Local Immigration Partnership, a network spearheaded by the Newcomers Association that includes municipalities, community and business leaders, immigrant serving agencies, and the  provincial and federal governments. 

“Whenever any of our clients express an interest in construction, we happily refer them on to Sam,” she says. 

Andy Walker

Andy Walker

Andy Walker has been a journalist in PEI for over 30 years. After a career working for both PEI's daily newspapers, covering everything from the provincial legislature to hockey games, he has been a full-time freelance writer since 1997. Andy has been editor of the Island Farmer, a biweekly publication which covers the agriculture scene, since 2000. He and his wife, Angela, have four adult children and they reside in Cornwall.

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