Higher COVID numbers mean tough times for Nova Scotia construction industry

·3 min read
The pandemic has left a shortage of workers on job sites and the current increase in cases in Nova Scotia has only made it worse. (CBC News - image credit)
The pandemic has left a shortage of workers on job sites and the current increase in cases in Nova Scotia has only made it worse. (CBC News - image credit)

As Nova Scotia deals with another wave of COVID-19, people in the construction industry say staff are dropping fast and construction projects are getting harder to complete.

"We've been impacted pretty hard," said Nick Rudnicki, CEO of RSI Projects. "A number of our crew members have said they're not comfortable showing up to work."

According to its website, Halifax-based RSI projects "is focused on residential and commercial renovation, new home build, and working closely with clients and architects to make the process as smooth and efficient as possible."

Rudnicki said some people in the trades, plumbers and electricians for example, aren't working in homes with residents inside "so renovation work isn't really happening at all."

Some employees are concerned about higher cases numbers and an inability to maintain physical distancing at a work site.

Fewer workers on the job site

Rudnicki said projects are now taking longer than a month ago. They've gone from having upwards of 15 people working at a job site to as few as two.

"Part of a job that would normally take a week is now taking a month because of reduced capacity and slower productivity with needing to observe the restrictions," he said.

Construction workers are exempt from current gathering limits. But Rudnicki said physical distancing in many cases isn't possible for workers so some have chosen to stay away.

Safety a priority but revenues tanking

He said safety is a priority but the company's revenue is suffering right now.

"This current slowdown and last year's slowdown is craterous for us," he said. "Our overhead completely eclipses the revenue so we end up losing money in this period."

Duncan Williams, president and CEO of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, said productivity in the industry has definitely seen a recent decline.

"We're hearing productivity is down due to the safety measures we have to go through now, things are slowed down," he said. "There's no question about that. Materials and supplies are in short supply."

Ducan Williams, president and CEO of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, says more contractors are needed in the industry right now.
Ducan Williams, president and CEO of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, says more contractors are needed in the industry right now.(CBC/Rob Short)

While the industry is going through a hard time financially, Williams said work continues. When physical distancing isn't possible, Williams said other measures, like use of double masks or Plexiglas, can be used.

"Adapting and overcoming project problems is what the industry does," he said.

Williams said there is also an increased demand for contractors right now, especially for residential work, and the demand is exceeding the number of available people to complete the jobs.

"The population of Halifax is increasing pretty quickly because people are moving here to Nova Scotia so we're seeing the demand for commercial and residential properties increase," he said.

People leaving the industry

Rudnicki said things are so bad that people in the industry are leaving one job to make a few more dollars at another one.

"I've heard that people would show up on site and be like, 'Hey, can I pay you 10 dollars more an hour to do the same job?' and the next day they're gone."

Williams said the labour shortage has been greatly magnified by the pandemic, so much so that they'll be doing outreach to get more people into the industry.

"We're reaching out to a whole host of different communities to try and encourage people from diverse communities to get involved in the construction community," he said.

He said between infrastructure programs and government projects "there's a lot of work in the pipeline for Nova Scotia."

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