British Columbia's skilled work force is expected to undergo an invisible shift in coming years as the pool of younger workers becomes smaller than the number of aging workers who have their eye on retirement. In a 10-part series, The Globe and Mail looks at the 10 jobs expected to be in highest demand in B.C. in the next decade. This is part seven.
James Blancard wears many hats – 27 of them, to be exact. That's how many certifications the construction trades helper and labourer from Surrey, B.C. has acquired over the course of his four decades in the business.
He has certifications for operating equipment such as bobcats, cranes, zoom booms and scissor lifts. He's a certified construction safety officer and a trade safety officer and has completed a level 2 first-aid course. He even has a certification that allows him to transport a patient who has been hurt.
Acquiring certifications – or "tickets," as they're often referred to in the business – can be a competitive advantage for labourers and construction trades helpers, says Mr. Blancard.
"If I can get a labourer who's got a certificate or a Red Seal certification that says 'He can run this machine,' I know that he can do that job, instead of me having to spend half a day teaching him," he says.
Mr. Blancard landed his first construction job, working on framing for apartment buildings at 16th Avenue and Fraser Street in Vancouver, right after finishing high school.
"I had a choice," he recalls. "Go to school or get a job."
Since then, he has worked on a number of large-scale projects: the Alex Fraser Bridge, the Surrey Memorial Hospital and the Yorkson Middle School in Langley. He's currently working on the Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre in Surrey, which will house a 50-metre Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The most satisfying part of the job for Mr. Blancard is gazing upon a completed project.
"I've always liked the fact that you can build something, you can stand back and look at it and you can see its magnitude, after it's finished, and say to yourself, 'I had a hand in building that,' " he says.
The demand for construction trades helpers and labourers is expected to rise, especially if the projected boom in the province's fledgling LNG industry materializes. Provincial data suggest 8,170 labourers will be needed in B.C. over the next decade.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark has been touting the province's LNG sector as a way to create thousands of jobs and erase the provincial debt.
But that will depend on how many of the projects materialize. Dean Homewood, the training plan administrator for local 1611 of the Construction & Specialized Workers' Union, says trying to predict that is like "looking into a crystal ball."
"We don't know exactly how many projects there are going to be, but even if one of those projects goes ahead there will be a lot of opportunity," says Mr. Homewood.