Innovation, natural resources and improving industry practices create attractive construction trades opportunities
Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer
With a lot of activity happening right now in Nova Scotia and more on the horizon, the future is looking bright for the construction trades in Atlantic Canada, despite historic trends towards smaller and less broad-scale projects.
“We are heading into a time of more activity and the opportunity to do things we haven’t done before,” says Trent Soholt, executive director of the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council. “This is an exciting time and with a co-ordinated effort, our tradition of being able to get things done innovatively and economically, there is great potential for the construction industry in the province.”
Soholt says Atlantic Canada has often been challenged by the pull of workers to large projects in other parts of the country. “A lot of the work in Nova Scotia is around the maintenance of existing companies; there are not a lot of new companies who come east, flourish and expand,” he said. “While we see growth in some areas, we don’t see the massive mega projects occurring in other parts of the country.”
Those mega projects, says Soholt, attract workers further inland where they know project after project will mean consistent work. “There is always talk of labor shortages in Nova Scotia but with a high unemployment rate. We see the resources (people) are there but they may not have the proper training to be able to find work. And then, when they have proper training, there still remains the challenge of steady projects to hold them.”
Working largely with contractors and labor organizations, Soholt says the push in recent years for infrastructure work has created a several projects in roadway and overpass maintenance but not in the areas of industrial, commercial or institutional projects. “The climate in Nova Scotia has a huge impact on roads so the work is needed but it would be nice to see more work being undertaken in other areas as well.”
Nevertheless, Soholt says things are beginning to turn in the right direction and if all of the currently planned projects on the drawing board come to fruition, will bring some stability and growth back to the province.
“We have very diverse resources here and a lot being done in the areas of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy,” says Soholt. “There are many opportunities to look at different energy sources and unique building processes, there are more LEED projects happening and all of this inspires innovation and creativity.”
Though there will always be some hesitation from the public around new technologies, innovation and creativity are key to gaining the public’s acceptance and trust. Also key is educating people to the industry’s potential, he said.
“A few years ago we conducted a study that said only 59 per cent of those in the industry would encourage their kids to enter trades,” says Soholt. “Who will promote the industry if not us?”
Soholt says there has been effort to increase educational opportunities and awareness about available jobs and multiple training options include new programs within the Nova Scotia community college aimed at unique trade-specific occupations such as green technologies.
Education is also required to keep people up-to-date on changing industry practices that are creating a more secure working environment.
Soholt is adamant in his belief that things have turned for the better in Nova Scotia.
“Our approach to seasons has changed and continues to change with advances in technology and milder weather,” Soholt says. “We haven’t had the heavy snows and extreme temperatures the past several winters so things aren’t slowing down as they once might have during those months. Even more important is the planning that goes into scheduling now so contractors and unions use these slower times deliberately for training to keep people engaged and up to date with the latest technologies.”