Early Education Key to Expanding Skilled Labour Pool

By Clare Tattersall

A new book aims to help bridge the gap of the skilled labour shortage by educating and exposing children, particularly young girls, to construction-related careers and elevating women in the industry.

Titled The House that She Built, young readers will learn about 18 different and inspiring STEAM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and construction careers through the tradeswomen who contribute their individual skills to complete the collective project — a new home.

“A book celebrating women choosing construction as a career path and being successful within is long overdue,” says Acacia Ashick, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) and construction project coordinator for Urbacon. “Children and even adults are conditioned to think (construction) is only a ‘man’s job’ and this world has no place for feminine success. It is important to teach children, especially at a young age, that this industry not only (provides a) viable but also a fruitful career and journey that includes job security, stability and room for growth.”

This is the goal of the book’s author, Mollie Elkman, and illustrator, Georgia Castellano. The pair, who work together at homebuilder marketing agency, Group Two, hope it cultivates curiosity about skills development and careers in construction at an age where self-esteem and identity are being formed.

Ashick is optimistic it will.

“Kids are like sponges and this is a critical time in their life that they will soak up this idea and hopefully carry it as they continue to grow and fulfill a job and career,” says Ashick.

Produced by BuilderBooks, the publishing arm of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the book is inspired by the team of real women who came together to build a one-of-a-kind home in Saratoga Springs, Utah, known as The House that She Built; hence, the book’s name. It’s the first home in the U.S. to be built by a 90 per cent all-woman, skilled labour team. Female trade workers were flown in to work on the project from across the country, helping add to the home with each of their expertise.

Monies from the sale of the home will go to scholarships for women pursuing careers in the construction field, a local non-profit and toward funding other future homebuilding projects.

Similarly, proceeds from the book will support skilled workforce development and diversity and inclusion in the construction industry. The House That She Built retails for $17.95 US. It will be released Sept. 14.

The children’s book is inspired by the team of real women who came together from across the U.S. to build a one-of-a-kind home in Saratoga Springs, Utah: The House That She Built.

According to NAHB, the book is only the beginning of inspiring diversity and inclusion for future generations of the skilled workforce for the housing industry.

This is important given that less than three per cent of the on-site workforce in housing in the U.S. are women. Faced with a skilled labour shortage — 71 per cent of builders surveyed in December 2020 said they expect to face an issue with the cost/availability of labour this year — the industry needs to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force like women.

The same is true in Canada. According to BuildForce Canada, which provides labour market information and programs for the construction workforce, the industry is challenged to find labourers to replace the estimated 257,100 workers that are expected to retire by 2029, which amounts to 22 per cent of the 2019 labour force.

Based on historical trends, BuildForce Canada expects the construction industry to draw approximately 227,600 first-time entrants aged 30 and under from the local population, leaving the industry with a possible retirement-recruitment gap of 29,500 workers. When coupled with demand growth, the industry may be short as many as 82,400 workers by the end of the decade.

“Even if the labour market leverages full interprovincial mobility, the industry will still need to be diligent in recruiting, training and retaining young workers, and expand recruiting efforts for new workers from local labour, other industries and new immigrants to meet ongoing labour needs,” said BuildForce Canada executive director, Bill Ferreira, in a February news release.

The challenge is the development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. As such, replacing retiring workers typically requires several years of pre-planning to avoid the creation of skills gaps.

To meet the industry’s growing demands, organizations like CAWIC are working to raise awareness of the opportunities available for women in construction.

“We need to show girls there are other careers besides the common choices that we hear of everyday,” says Ashick.

To that end, CAWIC has partnered with local colleges like George Brown in Toronto, to educate about women in construction and has participated in their job fairs to help link women with industry careers and companies.

The organization also offers a special member discount to high school and post-secondary institution students to encourage young women to network with each other and take part in women in construction oriented events hosted by CAWIC.

In the coming weeks, CAWIC will release a new mentoring program whereby female students and emerging construction professionals are paired with women already in the industry, creating close connections for meaningful mentorship, guidance, support and growth. Mentors are CAWIC members with at least five years of experience in construction. The organization is accepting applications until Sept. 6. The program kicks off Sept. 9.

“Construction is a beautiful industry to be a part of — this career creates solutions to real human needs, with each project impacting clients positively and changing lives for those who use the space,” says Ashick. “There is opportunity for every woman to succeed in the construction industry through its many diverse levels of work.”

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