More than $7 million already committed to Jay Westman’s $15-million campaign
There’s a strong link between the housing shortage and affordability in Canada and the accessibility of trades education, in that there’s not enough skilled labour to serve the construction industry. According to a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report, the workforce would have to double across much of the country to meet demand and bring prices within reach of potential homeowners.
Over the years, Calgary-based homebuilder Jay Westman, chairman and CEO of Jayman BUILT has addressed this challenge by investing in those who support the development of that workforce – namely, post-secondary institutes focused on hands-on education, such as NAIT and SAIT.
Concerned that apprenticeship students struggle to cover tuition, books and materials, Westman is now rallying the industry to help them.
On Oct. 15, he celebrated his 65th birthday with friends, colleagues and associates, and invited them to contribute funding to establish the BILD Alberta Scholarships for Construction Careers.
Given an enthusiastic response, that has evolved into a $15-million investment campaign to aid students, elevate the trades as a career choice and, ultimately, support an industry in need of skilled workers and communities in need of affordable homes.
“The shortage of skilled labour is the largest single issue our industry has ever faced,” says Westman, who as chair of the campaign has already seen more than $7 million committed to it. “This is an Alberta initiative with an Alberta solution.”
The nature of the need
Currently, out of the 1,787 donor-funded student awards at NAIT, just 165 awards are available to apprenticeship students.
But there is no shortage of career opportunities. The Alberta Occupational Outlook includes “construction trades helpers and labourers” as well as “home building and renovation managers” among fields facing a shortage of more than 3,000 workers by 2030.
Matt Lindberg (Plumber ’01), dean of NAIT’s School of Skilled Trades, recognizes that youth have a key role to play in meeting that shortage – something the campaign is designed to address.
“A portion of the funds are dedicated to support youth engagement activities,” says Lindberg. “This will enable NAIT to build awareness among high school students about trades education and opportunities. It will encourage them – their parents, teachers and counsellors – to see construction careers as a viable and exciting choice.”
“This is an investment in Alberta’s future.”
With funding also supporting them throughout their education, president and CEO Laura Jo Gunter sees the benefit of the investment to the province as well.
“This is an investment in Alberta’s future,” she says, “one that will pave the way for larger and more diverse enrollment in training for construction careers, ultimately helping to support the labour demand.”
Indeed, such awards allow students to focus on studies instead of worry about money, says second-year Glazier student Jesse Lynes. But they also raise esteem to attract more participants. “Awards like these boost confidence in more ways than just financial,” says Lynes. “They are also proof that the community values you, your hard work and your potential.”
Benefit to students and homeowners alike
The campaign will potentially fund some 3,000 awards for NAIT and SAIT homebuilding apprenticeship and pre-employment students. The program will see under-represented groups receive preference.
Among the trades programs supported at NAIT by the investment are Plumber, Electrician, Welder, Cabinetmaker, Heavy Equipment Technician, Auto Body Technician, Machinist and CNC Machinist, Carpenter, HVAC Refrigeration Technician, Ironworker, Roofer, Glazier and Insulator.
It’s an effort focused on education, but one that Westman sees as having the power to put more homes into the market more quickly. “I have chosen to lead by example and lead this investment campaign to make a notable impact in overcoming the financial concerns of students, while also bolstering our industry’s much-needed construction capacity across Alberta.”
Funding for student awards will start in January 2023.