Quebec employers desperate for tradespeople, urge government to increase immigration

Albert Einstein famously once said that if he had to live his life over again, he’d choose to be a plumber.

Many in the industry say he wasn’t wrong — it’s a lucrative job, and a much sought after service, these days.

“You can make six figures and up,” said Montreal plumber Ben Levine.

In spite of the demand and the high pay, though, people are staying away from the field, says Levine.

“The stereotype of a plumber, it’s the butt crack with a plunger, and really that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” he said.

These days, a lot of plumbing is high tech, such as connecting smart-home features and efficient furnaces, he said. But without more people going into the field, there’s a huge shortage of people to do the work.

“Everybody I’m speaking for is looking for good, qualified, reliable workers,” he said.

It’s the same story in many sectors, from hospitality to mechanics.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of calls from many companies for our students,” said Jason Bercovitch of the Aviron Technical Institute.

Companies are calling Aviron’s grads even before they graduate — well before, he said. And still, they often end up unsatisfied.

“We have a shortage. We don’t have enough students to supply,” he said.

So what happened?

The Quebec Federation of Independent Business says that as many older workers retire, young people aren’t too keen to take up the trades and work with their hands.

“A lot of students are not looking to work manually anymore,” said Bercovitch. “We’re having a problem getting students to come in and work manually.”

The industry feeling the biggest pinch is construction. A recent study found that in the past year, two-thirds of contractors have been forced to turn down jobs simply because they lack staff.

“Over the next ten years, we’re going to be in a huge, huge drought for construction workers,” said Lumi Bejko of Renovco.

“They’re looking at going into high schools and recruiting the youth and encouraging them and creating platforms to draw them in.”

But there’s no easy, quick fix. So business groups are asking the government to increase immigration, and to lower business taxes, because they say that these days, to keep workers they need to pay top dollar.

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