Constructing a custom partnership

Burlington’s Branthaven Homes turns to Mohawk College to confront talent challenge

When the leaders at Branthaven Homes decided about a year ago they had to confront their labour shortage challenge head on, they turned to Mohawk College.

The construction industry pays well and offers great career advancement opportunities, says Andrea Peckart, Vice President of Homeowner Relations.

But it’s a day-to-day struggle to get workers on sites. Subtrades are dealing with their own staffing challenges and it’s not uncommon to hire a labourer who only shows up for a couple of days.

The industry faces waves of retirement at a time when not enough young people are choosing trades, making this partnership critical in the short term and long term, says Peckart.

The strategic collaboration with the Burlington-based homebuilder has multiple components, beginning with a survey of needs and challenges within the industry and then a workshop to explore potential solutions for recruitment and retention.

Now an action plan is being formulated to connect and engage with future and prospective employees through open houses and job fairs and for a full review of all construction curriculum at the college.

“We’ve been impressed with how engaged and receptive Mohawk College is to working with us on workforce development and to making sure they are teaching what students need right now in the industry,” says Peckart, who is daughter of Branthaven founders Al and Judy Stipsits.

“Branthaven knows the entire sector needs support and they are willing to be a leader in finding solutions alongside Mohawk College,” says Samara Young, Associate Dean of Building Systems and Sustainability. That portfolio covers 17 programs at the Marshall School of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship in Stoney Creek.

“We are being responsive to the sector by taking a bigger, broader look at customized partnerships. We can do so much more when we work together.”

A priority is to break negative perceptions of trades among educators, guidance counsellors and parents.

“We have to change the stigma. Skilled trades shouldn’t be a fallback position but rather a goal,” says Sean Wadsworth, Branthaven’s Vice President of Homebuilder Operations.

It’s critical to attract women.

“Fifty per cent of the population aren’t really in the trades. Bringing the proportion of women up to the proportion of men in the industry would solve this problem in a broad stroke. Of course, that’s going to take time.”

About half of the managers at Branthaven are women and the company is focused on spreading the message that construction is a welcoming place for women at all levels, says Peckart.

Young says employers need support to adjust their recruitment and hiring operations to attract women, newcomers, international students and other equity-deserving groups.

“Employers want to learn about equity, diversity and inclusion. They understand they are part of the solution. We can help them drill down to the students’ perspective, ask the tough questions and look clearly at the barriers that are in place. That is where we will get results.”

Branthaven has already been working with City School by Mohawk on short-term training for those from underserved and marginalized groups to put them on a path to post-secondary education, apprenticeship or meaningful employment.

Deepening relationships between employers and the college improves hiring outcomes and the Branthaven-Mohawk partnership will serve as a model for other employers facing talent shortages, says Young.

“When employers come to our campus, spend time in our shops, talk to our faculty and spend time with students, that connection is invaluable.”

At 51 years in business, Branthaven employs about 110 people and is building single-family homes, townhouses, condos and apartments from Markham to Niagara Falls to Cambridge. When subtrades are taken into account, Branthaven projects employ thousands, says Peckart.

“We all need to work together to get the word out about jobs in the construction industry. It covers so many things, like sales, design, architecture, all the skilled trades on a job site. Construction is a big driver of jobs.”