The state of the construction industry in the province will be a prime focus for a guest speaker coming to the Battlefords this week.
Karen Low, executive director of the Merit Contractors Association of Saskatchewan, will be speaking at a noon-hour luncheon of the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce Thursday at the Balych Mural Meeting Room.
It is entitled “Construction Means Business,” and she will be providing an overview of current and emerging issues in Saskatchewan's growing open-shop construction sector both across the province and in the Battlefords.
The topic is timely because of the recent boom in building permits in both North Battleford and Battleford, with the combined permit values exceeding $81 million in the two communities in 2014.
In speaking to the Regional Optimist, she noted the importance of a booming construction sector to the economy.
“If you see things being built both in the public sector and the private sector, there’s a good chance it’s a very good indicator of the growth of the economy in general,” said Low.
She says she will speak about how the construction industry contributes to the overall economy and the role of open-shop contractors within the construction industry.
Merit Contractors Association will also host a “Smart Start” seminar Friday at the Western Development Museum starting at 7 a.m.
The workshop is designed to help employers reduce time lost on Workers’ Compensation Board claims and in the process also reduce WCB premiums. It is being offered free of charge. Garry Derenoski of IRC Innovative Rehabilitation Consultants will be the presenter.
“Any ideas on how you reduce WCB premiums is usually a good opportunity to learn,” Low said. Contractors are encouraged to attend.
The two presentations come at a time of economic uncertainty in the region with the slump in oil prices and concerns about layoffs in that industry.
Despite those conditions, Merit Contractors sent out a news release last Friday where they indicated finding skilled workers was still a concern.
A survey of their membership indicated 66 per cent of responders believe the shortage of skilled labour in Saskatchewan is still a significant issue. In response to the question “what is the current state of our province’s skilled labour shortage?” 13 per cent of contractors believed the shortage was still as bad as ever and 53 per cent said while there had been improvement they are still challenged to find skilled workers.
Also, 38 per cent reported it is still hard to find experienced managers but easier to fill apprentice or labourer jobs, while two per cent stated they had no problem finding skilled people for jobs.
According to Merit, that was an indication that despite the talk of a slowdown, their industry is still busy and their members are still having difficulties finding skilled workers.
“We did that survey because we weren’t sure with the changing economic conditions,” said Low.
“There has been a leveling off of construction activity, which I think everybody expected. You can’t go 20 per cent growth for seven years and not expect some leveling off. But we thought that maybe conditions with the labour shortage have changed, but I don’t think they have.”