Occupations and wages in the construction trades

Shown below is wage information for the Toronto market, according to the website Indeed.ca and the Government of Canada Job Bank.

The Indeed.ca wages are averages, based upon job postings on that website over the previous three years, up to January, 2020. (For some job classifications, Indeed.ca has attracted many more postings than for others, which may affect the value of the average numbers shown and explain a few significant variances from the Job Bank median amounts.)

The first column of Job Bank wages represent median numbers, meaning the wages earned by an individual, half-way down a list of all wage earners in that sector, so that half of those in the sector earn more and half learn less. This is different than the average wage, which can be skewed up or down from the median, depending upon the distribution of amounts at the higher and lower ends. The second column of Job Bank numbers represent the high end of wage compensation in each sector. The Job Bank data is from periods ending in 2018 and comes from government salary surveys.

By visiting either website, one can select different locations within Canada and a much greater variety of occupations. The ones displayed below are intended to give a high level view. Keep in mind that wages will always depend upon the degree of specialization, skill, and experience of a worker, as well the local supply and demand of labour.

Occupation Indeed.ca (av) Job Bank (median) Job Bank (high)
Brick mason/bricklayer $36.99 $37.00 $40.00
Carpenter $27.69 $25.00 $36.00
Carpenter helper $19.58 $20.00 $35.00
Construction assistant/helper $19.16 $20.00 $35.00
Construction Supervisor $30.32 $28.85 $48.08
Drywaller $24.10 $34.00 $40.00
Electrician $33.81 $35.00 $44.25
Equipment Operator $28.30 $30.00 $39.81
HVAC installer $28.55 $29.00 $45.67
Janitor, caretaker, bldg. superintendent $18.05 $18.00 $25.48
Painter $21.92 $20.00 $32.00
Plasterer $25.82 $34.00 $40.00
Plumber $28.68 $28.00 $41.35
Roofer $30.60 $27.00 $40.00
Welder $23.71 $23.50 $35.00

Online resources

There are several websites with useful information about the construction sector in Ontario:

As you navigate through the sites, ask yourself these questions to gauge the appropriateness of potential lines of work.

  • Are there jobs available and can their earnings potential support you and your loved ones? What is the outlook for the job? Can you commit to it long-term? Will there still be demand for it in the future and how will it be different from today?
  • Will work be constant and dependable, or will it be limited to favorable summer weather? Will you have to maintain relationships with multiple employers throughout the year?
  • Are there workshops or training you would have to take before becoming eligible for the job?
  • What are the relevant regulatory organizations that govern your trade of choice? How do they function, and what do you need to know to guarantee to potential employers that you can perform duties safely?
  • What types of employers are most common? Are they large companies with large teams and well-established processes to get work done, smaller independent businesses where workers are given more independence, or a mix of both?
  • When it comes to a particular job posting, can you picture what it would  be like to work in that environment? What skills would you need to thrive in the position? Would you be interested enough to put these skills to use every day for the foreseeable future?

A more specific selection of aids follows below.

    • Careers in Trades‘ list of construction trades with accompanying descriptions is well-designed and easy to navigate.
    • Skilled Trades – a recently-added, Government of Ontario website to help job seekers and employers “stay up-to-date as we build a new skilled trades and apprenticeship system and wind down the Ontario College of Trades.”
    • Apprenticeship.com has a guide for internationally-trained tradespeople and new/potential immigrants interested in pursuing a career in Ottawa’s skilled trades sectors. Even if you reside in another city, the information contained within represents a workable overview of regulations and expectations on the job.
    • A guide for newcomers to eastern Ontario—Prepare to be a Skilled Trades Helper—has broad applicability to those outside of the region. It’s published by Literacy Link Eastern Ontario (LLEO), Prince Edward Learning Centre (PELC), and Quinte Adult Day School (QADS), and expands upon the risks and educational background entailed by a job in construction.
    • The British Columbia Construction Association‘s program for newcomer integration sets a high standard when it comes to embracing construction workers from across the globe.

Construction and building maintenance jobs for newcomers to Canada

Value of English language proficiency

A newcomer whose English is below CLB 3 would be very fortunate, indeed, if he or she could find construction work. This would likely be through a connection with an employer or supervisor who speaks the newcomer’s language.

With previous trade experience and training before coming to Canada, an opportunity to earn more than $20 an hour is a markedly higher probability. If, however, hiring and supervision are to occur in English, opportunities beyond helper or general labourer will be limited until the newcomer reaches CLB 4 or 5.

It is a significant help if a volunteer or private sponsor can teach a newcomer construction-specific terminology, even before a more general level of comprehension and communication has been attained. At CLB 4 or 5, a newcomer becomes eligible for some pre-apprenticeship programs in construction, which include occupation-specific English. With this in mind, please search our Programs & Events section by selecting appropriately in the location, type, and sector fields, as well as minimum English language proficiency.

There are very few programs for internationally-trained professionals in Ontario in the construction trades, although there are such programs in the fields of engineering and architecture. One worth evaluating is George Brown College’s Construction Management Program. Applicants must undergo an interview, demonstrate relevant work experience, be proficient in English at the level of CLB 8, and hold an International Bachelor’s Degree or three-year diploma in Civil Engineering, Construction, or Architecture.

If a newcomer’s English is already at CLB 6 or higher, he or she may be eligible for occupation-specific Enhanced Language Training (ELT). ELT helps newcomers improve their communication and confidence to find and keep jobs they’re qualified for. Some ELT programs even have bridge-to-work assistance, including mentorship, work placements, and other employment services. Such programs within the Greater Toronto Area can also be found in our Programs & Events. Simply select the ‘ELT’ box in the type field, along with any other parameters that fit your needs.

Regulation and certification

In Ontario, certain construction trades require certification through a formal apprenticeship program, which combines work experience and academic training. A complete list can be found on the Settlement.org website. For other trades in Ontario, apprenticeship is voluntary. In these cases, credentials strengthen a candidate’s case when others are vying for the same job:

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

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

Training programs for newcomers in the GTA

Listed below this post are current programs in our database that should be of particular interest to newcomers in the GTA. Our Programs & Events page can also be used to find construction training programs in that region. We recommend using the ‘construction’ option under the sector field and the ‘Training with newcomer focus’ option under the type field. A newcomer’s facility with English could be higher or lower depending on their interests. Stand-alone instruction in forklift operation, for example, asks for roughly CLB 3, while pre-apprenticeship courses tend to be higher at CLB 4, and bridging programs CLB 5 to 7, with a component usually offered for work-specific English. Our database features bridging programs for internationally-trained welders, millwrights, electricians, HVAC specialists, and plumbers.

These organizations offer training in construction.

  • ACCES Employment.
  • Centennial College.
  • CPAC.
  • Humber College.
  • LiUNA! Local 506.
  • Skills for Change.
  • Toronto District School Board.
  • VPI Working Solutions.

Under a formal apprenticeship, an individual takes classes and learns a trade under the direction of experienced workers, while getting paid to do so. It takes two to five years to complete and attain a Certificate of Apprenticeship, a stepping stone toward the next level of certification, and hopefully better paying work. The minimum education required in Ontario is Grade 12, or in some cases, Grade 10. The level of English proficiency varies by program. Generally speaking, at least CLB 5 may be required for speaking and listening, with CLB 4 for reading and writing.

Employment services and settlement agencies have access to a program called NeCTAR (Newcomers Connecting to Trades Apprenticeship Resources). It’s intended to inform and serve internationally-trained individuals seeking apprenticeship or employment in Ontario’s skilled trades. It offers a resource kit with modules available through COSTI, such as:

  • An overview of the skilled trades and how the trades apprenticeship system works.
  • Certification and apprenticeship – the two pathways an individual with international training can take to practice a skilled trade.
  • A conveniently aggregated document called Becoming a Certified Tradesperson in Ontario.
    • It goes into the role of unions and women in the trades;
    • A glossary of relevant terminology;
    • 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;
    • Trade-specific self-assessment tools to assist internationally-trained individuals to assess how closely their training and experience match the standards for their trade in Ontario;
    • See as well the“Pathways to Practice” recommendations relating to four skilled trades, including Industrial Millwright on page 34 and Construction Maintenance Electrician on page 49.

As a way of complementing existing skills, a number of certifications are also recognized in the construction industry, including:

There are few Canadian training programs in construction specifically toward newcomer women or youth. The next best options for women looking for a female-oriented support in the GTA may be YWCA’s skilled trades program and an organization called Canadian Construction Women. The former focuses on painting and air conditioner repair, while the latter makes it its mission to attract and maintain women in the construction industry through mentorship, networking, learning, and development. Both are open to all women.

The next best option for newcomer youth may be the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. Eligible students must be at least 16 years old, have a Grade 10 education, and be comfortable conversing in English. Participants are afforded the chance to become certified in a trade while finishing high school. This program is not limited to newcomers.

Seasonality and winter months

Newcomers should consider the likelihood of significant slowdowns for some types of outdoor work due to rain or snow. In this situation, precautionary measures such as part-time gigs or the gradual accumulation of emergency savings go a long way to minimizing stress.

Another option is to file for Employment Insurance, which provides applicants with financial support when they lose their job for no fault of their own. For eligibility requirements, please consult the EI section in our post, What every prospective employee should know.

Religious observance

The Muslim observance of Ramadan—with fasting from sunrise to sunset—can be very challenging for those working strenuously or for long hours. As this holiday begins and ends 10 days earlier each year (running from April into May in 2020), it will be less of a factor than in recent years on days of extreme heat.

Workers’ compensation

Prospective employees should ensure that an employer has workers’ compensation coverage in case of job site accidents. Workers’ compensation replaces wages and affords medical benefits to persons injured on the job in exchange for the right to sue their employer for negligence. It’s guided by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act of 1997 (WSIA), which sets out boundaries for coverage. For more information about due process—from filing a claim to returning to work— Ontario’s Office of the Worker Adviser and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) are both resources of choice.

Individuals in the construction industry working as independent operators, sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, and executive officers of a corporation are automatically covered under the WSIA.

Union representation

There are numerous unions representing construction workers in the trades across the GTA. They bear grand and evocative names, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA). Of these, only LiUNA! Local 506 has participated in a pre-apprentice program for refugees and other newcomers.

Advantages

  • 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.

Disadvantages

  • Union dues and initiation fees;
  • Being bound by union decisions;
  • Being held back, possibly, due to someone else’s seniority;
  • Underperforming workers could 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 could outweigh any negative factors. On the other hand, union representation tends to focus on large construction sites and on employees of large construction firms. Many smaller businesses are non-unionized.

Job market outlook

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

According to a forecast released by BuildForce Canada in February, 2020, 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward, “Ontario will need to recruit 100,000 new construction workers over 10 years to keep pace with increased demand and retirements… The Ontario construction and maintenance sector continues to operate at close to full capacity driven by high volumes of investment in public- and private-sector infrastructure and residential activity.. The non-residential sector will be the primary driver of labour market peaks. The 2020 peak is driven by major public transportation projects, institutional building construction and modernization, and overlapping demands from two major nuclear refurbishment projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Southwestern Ontario… The GTA will likely require an additional 3,700 workers to meet demands in 2020. ”

Because these are only predictions, newcomers are advised to use them as the beginning of a more thorough job search plan. Having established a particular construction career’s hopeful prospects, in-depth analyses of individual employers must follow, all the while weighed against a newcomer’s personality, preferences, and ability to contribute.

Job boards and matching services

These job boards feature openings in construction 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. Though not exclusively for newcomers, WRKS was founded by a private sponsor of refugee newcomers, it represents a very large percentage of job seekers, and many companies in the network are willing to train people. Newcomers without construction skills should select tags for whatever non-construction skills they have, such as organization, management, and communications.

Helping refugees immigrate to Canada as skilled workers

Some private sponsors wish to help bring in a family member of refugee newcomers already settled in Canada. If said family member has expertise in construction trades, there is an alternate admissions route: even if officially certified as a refugee, immigrating as a highly-skilled worker may be much quicker. If you would like to read further about initiating this process, see what the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program has to say about its In-Demand Skills Stream.

Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) is also worth examiningAlthough a U.S.-based organization, their pilot project helps skilled refugees come to Canada and Australia. It has yet to bring people to the U.S.A. given the current political environment. The project aims to have refugees admitted as skilled workers under “economic immigration” rather than the much smaller “refugee” category. TBB views economic immigration as an additional solution to refugee resettlement. They believe that opening this pathway will serve to increase processing speeds and mobility options worldwide.