Occupations in the construction trades

The construction sector can involve strenuous manual labour and precise calculations about how much material a project needs, how it is supposed to be used, and how it should ultimately be put together. These calculations come with great responsibility as they hold public safety in the balance. Professionals in construction can take up one or more trades, which are jobs with an emphasis on manual skills and specialized training.

Here is a list of trades commonly pursued by refugee newcomers.

  • Carpentry.
  • Construction trades helper.
  • Drywalling and plastering.
  • Electrician.
  • Painting.
  • Plumbing.
  • Roofing.
  • Welding.
  • Building maintenance.
    • Janitors.
    • Caretakers.
    • Superintendents.

Regarding wage expectations, painters and construction helpers in the GTA can make around $20 per hour, although work may be seasonal and dependent on a day-to-day basis on the weather. As you gain seniority and/or transition to management, salaries can rise considerably.

Starting pay is closer to $30 per hour for building superintendents, with opportunities for upward mobility determined by the size and needs of the building(s). The work is unique because it calls for specific knowledge related to the building in question. This allows for repairs to be quickly dealt with as they arise. In this way, having a relevant background in multiple trades is a great asset for refugee newcomers to stand out in such a role.

Online resources

There are numerous websites with useful information about the construction sector. They cover a wide variety of trades that make our day-to-day lives easier.

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.

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 here. 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, and the Ontario College of Trades.

Training programs for newcomers in the GTA

Our Programs & Events incorporate construction training programs for newcomers in the GTA. 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 don’t appear to be many Canadian training programs in construction specifically founded for newcomer women or youth. The next best options for newcomer women are 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 is 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.

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, it will be less of a factor than in recent years on days of extreme heat in May and June.

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.

As of 2013, 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). As of July, 2019, only LiUNA! Local 506 has supported a pre-apprentice program for refugees and other newcomers.

Collectively, construction unions are represented by Canada’s Building Trades Unions, an organization that speaks for over half a million Canadian construction workers in the name of safety, respect, and fair pay. Newcomers should understand the pros and cons of union membership.

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 BuildForce Canada’s 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.””

Because these are predictions, as opposed to facts, 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, Australia, and soon perhaps, the UK. 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.

In March, 2019, the pilot welcomed Mohammed Hakmi, its first refugee, to Kitchener, Waterloo. Fleeing war-torn Syria with only his background in IT, Hakmi was hired as a full-stack developer at Bonfire, a local tech company.

In July, 2019, TBB collaborated with Paramount Fine Foods and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Canada to welcome the Maatis, a family of Syrian refugees, to Canada. Mr. Nabil Maati was hired as chef and kitchen manager at Paramount Fine Foods’ Mississauga location.

Stories in the media

The following articles and stories about newcomer employment in the construction sector may be of interest: