A shortage in the labour pool is nothing new to Muskoka, or the province as a whole, especially when it comes to the trades. However, with the influx of people relocating to Muskoka during the pandemic, that need is being felt more acutely now than ever.
“That labour shortage is certainly a common theme whether it’s among contractors, subcontractors or suppliers,” says Thomas Cowden, the president of the Muskoka Builders’ Association (MBA) and the owner and operator of Cowden’s General Contracting. “It’s been a problem for at least the last four years but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. I know there are some people who have had to slow down the amount of work they’re taking on or take on fewer projects because they simply don’t have the labour.”
Although there are a range of reasons for the shortfall, the lack of housing available in Muskoka is certainly a major contributor, says Cowden.
“I think that lack of accommodation forces people to look outside the main hubs of Muskoka for places to live,” says Cowden. “That can be a challenge. They can get people interested in the work but there’s only so much accommodation available and that’s a problem that takes time to fix.”
Mary Ellen Fetterly is team leader – employment services with YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Employment Services in Huntsville. “We do see clients who are living outside of Huntsville (Novar, Utterson, etc.) because that’s where they can secure affordable, available rental housing,” she says. “This can be challenging depending on whether they have access to transportation.”
If a client they are working with to secure employment is looking for housing, the YMCA will refer them to a variety of resources, depending on their individual situation. That might range from online resources that list rental properties in Muskoka to Kijiji and online classified ads.
“It might be to a property management company that will share available rental housing options that are currently available in our community,” says Fetterly. “It might be to the Salvation Army or District of Muskoka if they are in crisis and need immediate assistance, or we contact the District of Muskoka housing department and refer the client to them, as perhaps they may be eligible for subsidized housing.”
According to Thomas Cowden another possible solution is to make better use of the labour that’s available in Muskoka already.
“I think it would be great if we could start drawing more labour right out of high school,” he says. “I don’t get any calls from high school students who have just graduated and want to start a career straight out of high school. They already live in the community and could start working right away.”
Cowden said many opportunities exist for apprenticeships in the skilled trades and taking on younger workers would help alleviate the existing shortfall.
Cowden points to a recently unveiled program from the Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) as a step in the right direction.
Launched earlier this month, the Start Me Up campaign is designed to increase knowledge and awareness of the opportunities available to students in the skilled trades and apprenticeships.
Cowden says the MBA also stays in regular contact with various housing groups in Muskoka as they search to deepen the local labour and ease the stress during Muskoka’s building boom.
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