The Building Builders mentorship program seeks to connect under- and unemployed workers in B.C.’s construction industry and those with no experience in the sector with construction industry leaders
Photo courtesy of the British Columbia Construction Association
From coast to coast to coast, the Canadian construction industry is facing a worsening workforce crisis where approximately 21 per cent of workers are expected to “grey out” of the industry and retire over the next decade.
Meanwhile, the construction sector continues to struggle to attract the next generation of workers. In British Columbia alone, it’s anticipated that there will be 27,630 job openings in the industry by 2027 due to expansion and retirement; many of which will need to be filled by improving the retention of current workers and by finding ways to introduce new entrants to consider construction as a career.
In April 2022, the Ministry of Employment and Social Development Canada, through the federal government’s Skilled Trades Awareness and Readiness (STAR) program, provided the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) with $3.6 million to support the Building Builders mentorship program, the first program of its kind in the province.
The program seeks to connect under- and unemployed workers, labourers and unregistered apprentices working in B.C.’s construction industry – in addition to those with no experience in the sector – with established and credentialed tradespeople, executives and construction industry leaders.
The program’s objectives include:
- Attracting non-traditional workers to the industry;
- Retaining existing workers who are not yet on a solid career path and potentially not supported in apprenticeship by their current employer;
- Lowering the average age of apprenticeship initiation, which is currently 27;
- Improving apprenticeship registration and completion rates; and
- Placing mentees in employment with mentor companies.
“The Building Builders program is all about reducing the skilled labour shortage in British Columbia’s construction industry,” said Cindy Lalonde, provincial program manager at the BCCA. “By providing connections to industry leaders, we hope to improve retention and also attract new talent. Building Builders is a unique opportunity for mentees to connect with successful leaders in construction and to benefit from expert, personal advice about building a successful career path in the construction industry.”
Mentorship is a proven benefit for young talent in any industry, but has been lacking in construction outside of the traditional apprenticeship system. Building Builders seeks to create a greater sense of community through mentorship and break down the barriers that keep many new entrants from starting their careers in the industry. Through the program, mentees are provided on-site SiteReadyBC safety training through the British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) and have access to financial supports that get them onto the construction site, such as transportation costs, work boots and hard hats. Both mentees and mentor companies also receive culture training through the Builders Code.
“We want to make sure construction is an accessible industry that anyone feels they can succeed in,” said Lalonde. “Building Builders gives mentees the time and space to figure out where their skill sets could be most valued. The program seeks to support people and their construction career goals and then offers insight from someone who has been there.”
Mentees receive one-on-one coaching, job leads and work experience through the Building Builders program. In addition, Program Advisors provide the mentor and the mentee with customized support and opportunities to connect throughout their experience. By building stronger relationships with mentees, the program can also provide a talent acquisition opportunity for employers seeking new workers during the ongoing labour shortage.
“As an industry, we need to figure out a way to transfer the accumulated knowledge of the workers set to retire to a new generation of workers,” said Lalonde. “Building Builders can help accomplish that.”
Although Building Builders does not have a deep foundation-specific focus, the program complements the trades-specific training provided by the apprenticeship system. It is a way to introduce mentees to what a career working in deep foundations might entail.
“As a culture, we are familiar with what it means to be a carpenter, plumber or an electrician, but unless you’re connected to the industry, you may not have the deep knowledge necessary to base your choice of career on,” said Lalonde. “Building Builders’ mentors can illuminate those hidden aspects of construction that aren’t talked about as much and show how they can provide amazing careers.”
Building Builders opened up to applications in August. The program is funded to run for approximately three years, over which time it will have supported up to 300 mentees through a 12-month mentorship period. Mentors and mentees can apply at any time. Mentors must have at least 10 years of experience in the construction industry and mentees must be at least 18 years old, living in British Columbia and interested in learning more about a career in construction.
“Building Builders is for everybody,” said Lalonde. “Currently, the construction sector in British Columbia tends to be a fairly homogenous group that’s predominantly male, but we have mentors from diverse places, so we can really support non-traditional entrants into the construction industry. Maybe it’s the people who are newcomers to Canada, women or workers from Indigenous backgrounds, or even people looking for a change in careers – we want everyone to feel included in this industry.”