Labour shortages: Quebec to fast-track training for some in-demand construction jobs

QUEBEC — The Quebec government is offering paid fast-track training programs for workers in skilled trades that are most in demand in the province's construction industry, Premier François Legault announced Monday.

Legault told reporters he hopes to train anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 new carpenters, excavator operators, heavy machinery operators, refrigeration technicians and tinsmiths — workers who make things with sheet metal.

The number still falls short of the 6,500 workers missing from the industry, but the premier said the government needed to start somewhere.

"We need to give it a big push," Legault said.

“We want to increase the number of people trained and offer them short training courses so that they are ready to enter construction sites as of the summer of 2024."

There is a mid-December deadline to apply for the courses, which include 500 to 700 hours of training over a shortened four to six months.

Classes are set to begin in January for theone-time accelerated training programs in which students will receive $750 per week to obtain a professional studies certificate.

Meanwhile, those who enrol in a vocational studies diploma program in those same fields could, under certain conditions,be eligible for scholarships of between $9,000 to $15,000 upon graduation. That offer will be extended to those beginning their studies in the last months of 2023.

The Quebec government will also be increasing the capacity of the diploma programs in electricity, plumbing and heating beginning in January, which have lengthy wait lists.

Legault said the new fast-track programs, which will cost $300 million, are necessary for the province to complete major projects, such as new schools, roads and hydroelectric facilities.

It's not the first time the Quebec government has gone the fast-track route. The current plan draws heavily on what it did during the COVID-19 pandemic to quickly recruit and train orderlies to work in long-term care homes.

Legault made the announcement Monday in Quebec City with Employment Minister Kateri Champagne Jourdain, Education Minister Bernard Drainville and Labour Minister Jean Boulet.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business welcomed the measures, with François Vincent, the federation's Quebec vice-president, noting the announcement is timely and will help small- and medium-sized businesses deal with a construction labour shortage.

The Association of Construction and Housing Professionals of Quebec said in a statement the measures will facilitate access to the industry for those who want to switch professions but who can't afford to take unpaid time off.

However, construction unions in the province have raised health and safety concerns, noting the industry is already quite "deadly."

“We would like that to change," said CSD-Construction union president Carl Dufour. "We don’t think that by shortening training, we will go in this direction."

A major education union, FSE-CSQ, said reduced training will have an impact on qualification and mastery of skills.

“The government is unfortunately still seduced by this same short-sighted formula of major reduction in the duration of training, which lowers the quality bar,” said union president Josée Scalabrini.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023.

Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press