How to Attract Skilled Trades Talent in Today’s Tight Labor Market
The demand for skilled tradespeople continues to increase throughout Canada. Skilled workers have the potential to build rewarding and lucrative careers yet there aren’t enough qualified or willing candidates to fill the roles. Why is that?
Some argue that there isn’t enough push at the high school level to encourage young people to consider such careers and replace retiring Baby Boomers. Others have pointed out that the requirement for hands-on experience and extensive certifications is driving people away.
What we are finding in the recruitment industry is that many employers are not always effective at attracting and recruiting for trades talent. From outdated hiring strategies and hiring processes to burdening demands, employers are not thinking out of the box and not evolving to stay current. We discovered something key from our work with skilled trades candidates: they value location, competitive salaries, and work-life balance.
Skilled Trades Market in Canada
Within Canada, the skilled trades market is classified into four key categories: construction, motive power, industrial, and service. Skilled trade workers are essential to the Canadian economy as they contribute to building and maintaining the country’s infrastructure such as our homes, hospitals, or schools and they support the smooth operation of many public services.
In 2019, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s National Labour Market Report estimated that a total of 67,000 new tradespersons would be required to sustain workforce certification levels across the 10 largest Red Seal trades in Canada, excluding Quebec and the Territories, until 2023. Then came COVID-19. The pandemic presented significant challenges to the Canadian apprenticeship system with social distancing and lockdown mandates delaying the delivery of in-school training and certification. Canada is now at risk of not having sufficient numbers of certified candidates to meet the growing demand in Ontario and nationally.
But the pandemic also highlighted the importance of skilled trade workers. As frontline workers, they supported the delivery of goods and services, manufacturing of essential products, and maintenance of public services and infrastructure.
Canada’s construction and maintenance industries are already challenged by these labor shortages. BuildForce’s 2020-2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward national report anticipates that over 257,000 construction workers will retire by 2029. Even after taking into consideration post-pandemic growth and estimating the entry of youth workers into the industry, BuildForce anticipates a shortfall of approximately 80,000 workers by 2029.
Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Ontario Construction Secretariat reported that 56% of contractors expect to have greater difficulty accessing skilled labor in 2021.
Tips for Attracting Trades Talent
We are in the midst of an epic shift in employment. Remote work, hybrid work environments, work flexibility, a greater focus on diversity and equality, data analysis, COVID19 – these are some of the things driving change. And employers must stay ahead to win the battle for top talent.
While every business is different and there isn’t one perfect approach to attracting trades talent, here are some suggestions to get you started:
Think Out of the Box
You are one of many, many employers competing for trades talent so how can you get their attention? Start by looking at what everyone else is doing and ask yourself, how can I do this differently? Being creative in this recruitment landscape is a necessity. Incentives, free training, relocation or signing bonuses, employee referral programs – these are some of the different things we’re seeing companies do today.
There is a lot of potential in the trades sector to recruit more innovatively. Sometimes working with a consultant, someone who can give you those out-of-the-box ideas, is the best option. When we partner with a company to help them recruit skilled trades, we focus on removing barriers to hiring. We provide allowances for safety boots, tools, or forklift licenses, for example, anything to help support the candidates and get them to that finish line.
Promote Your Company Culture
This is just as important in skilled trades as it is in other professions. Don’t be shy about using social media to let the world know about the perks and benefits of working for your company. Showcase everything that makes it great and encourage employee advocacy. Leverage social media platforms to reach your target talent pool, plant the seeds at every opportunity, share new job postings, and build connections. We also use job ads to promote the value-added characteristics of a company or the role. Use the ad to get a candidate’s attention by highlighting fun employee events, competitive wages, benefits, work-life balance, or location.
Hire for Potential
Don’t get too caught up with experience and/or certifications. While in some cases both are important and necessary, in others the skill sets can be learned given the right candidate. So when you write the job ad, make sure to note your willingness to obtain applications from job seekers who are wanting to learn. Don’t make the qualifications so specific or cumbersome that it will eliminate skilled workers who can prove to be a true asset to your team.
Broaden Your Reach
Assess whether you’re tapping into all the available candidate pools. For example, are you appealing to women? If not, change your strategy. There are many qualified female workers in the skilled trades and if your recruitment process or culture doesn’t support that, you’re missing out. Similarly, veterans, Indigenous communities, retired athletes – they are hidden gems. We work with these groups regularly to help support them in finding meaningful work and they often end up being some of the best candidates we place.
Enhance Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
Employees are attracted to companies with a solid and demonstrated commitment to diversity and equality. If you haven’t already, build out your diversity practices and become a leader. Women, for example, represent less than 5% of registered tradespeople, according to a 2020 report by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) and they still face barriers to entering trades professions. Be the company that helps to eliminate those barriers for women and other minorities, and you’ll benefit from a larger talent pool.
Offer Competitive Salaries and Benefits
This tip is probably the most obvious, but we would say one of the most important. Because candidates have their pick of the crop so to speak, it’s important to stay competitive with compensation and benefits. When working with candidates in the skilled trades sector, we often encounter this problem, where employers are reluctant to increase a salary to meet the expectations of a great candidate, and in the end, they lose out, ultimately costing them even more. We also regularly encourage the companies we work with to consider attendance, hero, or loyalty bonuses to help attract and retain talent.
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We need to do a better job educating and encouraging younger generations about the fulfilling careers awaiting them in skilled trades. The labor shortages are going to be detrimental to many businesses if we don’t all do our part in this. Attracting trades talent starts here, in schools, where we can inspire the next generation of workers and support them in their journey.
There are many challenges in recruitment today. Onboarding has shifted to online. Companies are struggling to define and implement COVID19 policies. Relationship building and communication have taken a back seat with lockdown and distancing measures. To win the battle for top skilled trades talent, companies need to find the right tools and strategies to overcome these challenges and alleviate the pain points that candidates are experiencing.