Occupations in construction and building maintenance

There are numerous websites which provide useful information related to the various trades in the construction sector, including:

  • Carpentry
  • Construction trades helpers
  • Drywalling and plastering
  • Electrician
  • Janitors, caretakers and building superintendents
  • Painting
  • Plumbing
  • Roofing
  • Welding

These websites describe:

  • Job outlook and growth, and projected job openings
  • Job roles
  • Earning potential
  • Job-related skills and interests
  • Preparation and training required
  • Regulatory organizations
  • Types of employers and
  • Employment characteristics and personal suitability

Websites worth visiting include:

A guide specifically created for internationally-trained tradespeople and new/potential immigrants interested in pursuing a career in Ottawa’s skilled trades sectors may be of interest and can be found on the Apprenticeship.com website.

See also a guide prepared for newcomers to Eastern Ontario, entitled “Prepare to be a Skilled Trades Helper”, published by Literacy Link Eastern Ontario (LLEO), Prince Edward Learning Centre (PELC), and Quinte Adult Day School (QADS).

The Globe and Mail has published a number of articles on compensation for those in the construction trades, including the following:

A construction helper in the GTA can currently make $30 per hour, although work may be seasonal and dependent on a day-to-day basis upon the weather not being poor.

Construction and building maintenance jobs for newcomers to Canada

Value of English language proficiency

A newcomer who speaks English below the level of CLB 3 would be very fortunate, indeed, if he or she could find construction or building maintenance work, as a result of connecting with an employer or supervisor who speaks the newcomer’s language.

If the newcomer already had experience and training in a particular trade, before coming to Canada, an opportunity to soon earn more than $20 per hour might be readily available.

If, however, hiring and supervision are to occur in English, opportunities beyond being a labourer or trades helper, are likely to be very limited, until the newcomer has reached the CLB 4 or 5 level.

If a sponsor can help a newcomer learn construction-specific terminology, even before a more general level of comprehension and communication has been attained, this could be of significant help. At CLB 4 or 5, a newcomer also becomes eligible for some pre-apprenticeship programs in construction, which include occupation-specific English. (See our Programs & Events section.)

There are currently no bridge programs for internationally-trained professionals in Ontario for the construction trades (although there are such programs in the fields of engineering and architecture.)

If a newcomer is already at the level of CLB 6 English, he or she may be eligible for occupation-specific Enhanced Language Training (ELT). ELT helps newcomers improve their proficiency and confidence to more easily and quickly find and keep jobs for which they are qualified. Some ELT programs have bridge-to-work assistance, including mentorship, work placements and other employment help. Such programs within the GTA can be found in our Programs & Events section.

Regulation and certification

In Ontario, certain construction trades require certification through a formal apprenticeship program, which combines work experience and academic training. (See Which trades are regulated in Ontario? on the Settlement.org website.) These trades include:

  • Crane operator
  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic
  • Sheet metal installer or worker and
  • Steamfitter.

For other trades in Ontario, apprenticeship is voluntary, including for:

  • Boilermaker
  • Fitter (Structural Steel / Platework)
  • Glazier and Metal Mechanic
  • Ironworker
  • Lather
  • Mason/bricklayer
  • Millwright/machinist
  • Painter and Decorator
  • Roofer
  • Sprinkler and Fire Protection Installer

For information on apprenticeships in Ontario, see the websites of the Ontario College of Trades, Ontario Colleges and Apprenticesearch.com.

A number of certifications are recognized in the construction industry, including for:

  • WHMIS (for working with hazardous materials)
  • Working at Heights
  • Ministry of Labor Health & Safety in 4 Steps
  • Propane Handling
  • Class 4/5 Forklift
  • Elevated Work Platforms

As indicated below, there are pre-apprenticeship construction training programs offered within the GTA that issue such certificates upon successful completion of their courses.

Training programs for newcomers in the GTA

For construction training programs available in the GTA, which are specifically for or welcome newcomers, details can be viewed in the Programs & Events section of this website. Upcoming programs can be filtered by industry sector, type of program, location, and minimum English language proficiency requirement. Programs for newcomers which are listed in our Programs & Events section include pre-apprenticeship courses (which may require CLB 4 English) and bridging programs (which may require CLB 5 to 7 English), with a component usually offered for work-specific English. There is also stand-alone instruction in forklift operation (requiring at least CLB 3).

There do not appear to be any training programs in construction, which are specifically organized for newcomer women or youth.

Under a formal apprenticeship, an individual takes classes and learns a trade by working under the direction of experienced workers, while getting paid for doing so. It takes between two and five years to complete an apprenticeship. Upon completion, a Certificate of Apprenticeship provides a step toward the next level of certification, leading to better paying jobs.

The minimum education required for an apprenticeship in Ontario is Grade 12 or, in some cases, only Grade 10. The level of English proficiency required to enter an apprenticeship varies by program. At least CLB 5 may be required or recommended for speaking and listening and CLB 4 for reading and writing.

Employment services and settlement agencies have access to a website and program called “NeCTAR” (Newcomers Connecting to Trades Apprenticeship Resources). NeCTAR is intended to provide information and services to internationally-trained individuals seeking apprenticeship or employment in the skilled trades in Ontario.

NeCTAR offers a reference guide, materials to be provided to internationally-trained tradespeople, and a resource kit with modules that are available through the COSTI website, which include:

  • an overview of the skilled trades and how the trades apprenticeship system works.
  • Becoming a Certified Tradesperson in Ontario, describes certification and apprenticeship – the two pathways an individual with international training can take to practice a skilled trade.
  • “Pathways to Practice” recommendations relating to four skilled trades, including “Construction Maintenance Electrician” and “Industrial Millwright”

For the section on labour market information for “Construction Maintenance Electrician”, see the section beginning on page 49. For “Industrial Mechanic / Millwright”, see the section beginning on page 34 of “Facilitator Guide 2 Becoming a Certified Tradesperson in Ontario” on the COSTI website (although some of this information may be dated.) The section covers:

  • The Role of Unions.
  • Women in the Trades.
  • Trade-Specific Self-Assessment Tools to assist internationally trained individuals assess how closely their training and experience match the training standards for their trade in Ontario.
  • Trade-specific fact sheets for internationally trained individuals to quickly access information about apprenticeship or certification in their trade.
  • Websites to link both internationally trained individuals and service providers to streamlined information and resources.
  • Glossary of trade terminology.

Seasonality and winter months

Newcomers should take into consideration that for some types of work in outdoor environments during the winter months, there may be a significant slowdown in available work.

Workers’ compensation

Prospective employees should make sure that an employer has workers’ compensation coverage that provides for workers in case of job site accidents.

Union representation

There are numerous unions representing construction workers in the various trades across the GTA.

A newcomer should understand the pros and cons of union membership, in evaluating whether to join a union.

The advantages of union membership include:

  • Higher wages
  • Access to benefit programs
  • Access to work opportunities
  • Equality and fairness
  • Job Security
  • Better Training
  • Health and safety protection
  • Senior rights, in some cases and
  • Support when a personal issue arises with an employer.

Factors to balance against the advantages, include:

  • Union dues and initiation fees
  • Being bound by union decisions
  • Being held back, possibly, due to someone else’s seniority
  • Under-performing co-workers may be protected and
  • Loss of work and wages, at least temporarily, in the event of a strike.

For a newcomer, higher wages and access to benefits and work opportunities may justify any negative factors. On the other hand, union representation tends to be among employees of large construction firms and on large construction sites. Many smaller construction businesses and sites are non-unionized.

One union local in the GTA which has supported a pre-apprentice program for refugees and other newcomers is the labourer’s union, LiUNA! Local 506.

Job market outlook

The general outlook for employment in the construction sector within the GTA is very positive.

According to the BuildForce Canada 2018-2027 Forecast:

  • “The pace of construction employment growth in Central Ontario is expected to ease over the near term, but overall employment is expected to be sustained near current levels over the next decade. Moderate declines in residential construction in 2018 and 2019 are partly offset by a continued strengthening in institutional and commercial building construction, while major investment in public transportation and other infrastructure projects should sustain high levels of engineering-construction-related employment. Across the scenario period, anticipated shifts from residential to ICI building construction requirements contribute to generally balanced labour market conditions in the region. Rising demands in the GTA and Southwestern Ontario, however, may draw labour to these markets creating workforce challenges locally.”

According to a January, 2016 article in Ontario Construction Report:

  • “The construction industry across Canada is facing a demographic cliff due to a rapidly aging workforce that will be lost to natural attrition factors,” said CCAT executive director Cristina Selva. “Over the next decade more than 250,000 workers are expected to retire. An additional 81,000 jobs will be created due to expansion demands. This means that we will need to recruit, train, and retain more than 330,000 new tradesmen and women across the 34 core construction trades Canada wide. More than 46,000 of those jobs will be carpenters. This will be a huge challenge for our industry.”

Job boards and matching service

Consider searching these job boards for the construction sector in the GTA:

Another service to consider is Toronto-based WRKS, which describes itself as “the construction hiring network”. A job seeker creates an online account, provides information about education, skills, and certifications, and chooses up to five tags, describing areas of expertise. The service then matches the job seeker with employers, who have provided their own job profiles and search criteria. The service is not exclusively for newcomers, but they represent a very large percentage of its job seekers. The founder of WRKS has been a private sponsor of refugee newcomers.  Many companies in the WRKS network are willing to train people. Newcomers who don’t have construction skills should select tags for whatever non-construction skills they may have. Examples: organization, management, communication.

Helping refugees immigrate to Canada as skilled workers

Some sponsors may be seeking to help a family member of already-settled, refugee newcomers also come to Canada. If such a family member has  expertise in construction trades, such as electrician, plumber, or welder, consider an alternate admission route. Even if this person might be officially certified as a refugee, immigrating as a highly skilled worker may be much quicker.

Consider, for example, the program of the American non-profit, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB)Although this is a U.S.-based organization, it is helping skilled refugees come to Canada, as well as to Australia, and soon perhaps, the UK (but, ironically, not yet the USA, given the current political environment.) The program’s objective is to have refugees admitted as skilled workers in the “economic immigration” category, rather than under the much smaller, “refugee” classification.

TBB views economic immigration as an additional solution to refugee resettlement. It believes that opening this economic pathway for eligible refugees would serve to increase the mobility options available to refugees worldwide. As of Fall, 2018, the program is just getting off the ground, with the first newcomers expected to arrive shortly. See Pilot Project Aims  to Bring Refugees to Canada as Skilled Workers (Toronto Star Oct/18.) The main advantage of going this route is speed.

In the pilot stage, TBB and its government partners are trying to identify and overcome roadblocks that refugees would normally face in applying as economic immigrants, including, for example, expired passports and non-access to credentials.

Stories in the media about newcomer employment in this sector

The following stories, reported in the media, about employment of newcomers in the construction sector, may be of interest: