Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Who's on Secondary? the Impact of Temporary Foreign Workers on Alberta Construction Employment Patterns

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Who's on Secondary? the Impact of Temporary Foreign Workers on Alberta Construction Employment Patterns

Article excerpt

THE CANADIAN PROVINCE OF ALBERTA suffers from recurring labour shortages caused by its unstable resource economy. (1) Alberta has historically relied upon interprovincial migrant workers to meet demand during "boom" periods. (2) Between 2003 and 2013, the availability of interprovincial migrants was inadequate to meet overall demand for workers. (3) Alberta's construction industry and the provincial government sought to recruit workers from groups they defined as underrepresented, such as women and Indigenous peoples, to address this shortage. (4) At the same time, the federal government altered its long-standing Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to enable employers to hire an increasing number of international migrant workers. Alberta employers were among the most enthusiastic users of temporary foreign workers (TFWS). (5) The effect of TFWS on how employers approach recruitment and retention of traditionally marginalized groups has not been extensively studied.

This article examines employment patterns in Alberta's construction occupations between 2003 and 2014 to determine if the rapid influx of TFWS into the province affected the composition of its construction labour force. In particular, it compares employment patterns for TFWS and targeted groups, which include women, youth, Indigenous peoples, and permanent immigrants. The results provide a mixed and complex picture of shifting patterns within a context of a boom-and-bust economy. Overall, the proportion of workers in construction occupations drawn from the targeted groups has remained relatively unchanged and these workers appear to have more precarious employment. These findings suggest workers from these targeted populations continue to serve as a secondary source of workers for construction employers. The findings also demonstrate that employers are using TFWS as a new, more fluid secondary source of workers.

Labour Force Dynamics in Construction

THE MAJORITY OF CANADIAN construction workers are men, a situation replicated across most industrialized nations. Female, young, Indigenous, and immigrant workers are underrepresented in construction occupations, particularly in the skilled trades. Specifically, women make up less than 5 per cent of workers in construction occupations. (6) Indigenous workers are over-represented in construction as a proportion of total Indigenous employment, yet they continue to comprise less than 4 per cent of construction employment and are notably underrepresented in high-skilled trades occupations. (7) Immigrants' share of employment and employment growth in construction lags that of other workers. (8) Further, the participation rate of racialized workers continues to be marginal in the construction industry. (9) Despite ongoing efforts by governments and industry groups to increase employment of these underrepresented groups, progress has been modest. Various factors appear to inhibit traditionally underrepresented groups from employment in construction occupations.

The limited supply of appropriately trained female applicants is identified as a barrier to increasing women's participation in skilled trades. In 2007, only 8 per cent of the 28,070 women in Canadian apprenticeships were apprenticing in construction trades. While women comprised 3.7 per cent of all building trades apprentices, those who completed the apprenticeship represented only 1.8 per cent of all completions, suggesting disproportionately high attrition. (10) Another line of explanation for low female participation rates centres on isolation, discrimination, and harassment--including employers failing to adequately accommodate the greater role women play in social reproduction --creating barriers for women considering or advancing careers in construction. (11)

Some employers note that women do not seem interested in and may not be physically able to perform "the job." (12) It is important to consider whether women's alleged distaste for and so-called inability to perform such work reflect something innate to women and/or the work or, alternately, are contingent upon cultural practices (e. …

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