By Simon Tully, President of CAOB
As we move into the beginning of another year of construction the outlook in the short term is moderately buoyant; however, the long-term outlook is less optimistic for a variety of reasons. Some are circumstantial, but others are able to be tackled with some long-term thinking.
In the Bermuda Construction scene, it is the high-end residential construction/renovation that is generally the normal bulk of the construction work with smaller renovations across the island contributing. There are several big builds going on and these will continue to drive the financial turnover for the year. In the Commercial Sector, this is being kept buoyant by the Green family and the major renovations happening at Point House. The new wing at Somersfield Academy and the Innovations Center at Bermuda High School has kept many busy. In the Tourism Sector, Azura has completed Phase I and will soon begin their hotel operations. Similarly, they have embarked on the first building of Phase II Construction Works and are targeted to complete in early 2021. This project brings another fine tourism product to fruition. St Regis in St. George has announced their targeted completion in 2021. All these jobs contribute to the local economy and churn in the construction sector as a whole. Once the large projects are complete, these buildings have the potential to generate hundreds of jobs both operating and maintaining the facilities.
The Skyport team is looking to Summer 2020 to have the new airport terminal up and running which has been a great employer for construction companies across the island. Those workers coming off the airport will be looking for the next job. We are hopeful that with the potential 18-month closure of the Fairmont Southampton and renovations by Gencom that there will be a great deal of works in the mechanical trades and interior fit outs starting in 2020. We hear there are some proposed government projects that may be interesting – it has been mentioned there is a proposed demolition of the old police station and Valerie James Building to make way for a property that has been hinted as a P3 development; however details have not been made public as of yet. Similarly, there has been talk of potential new bridges which are promising. We will hear more at the public meetings being held in early March.
With all this potential, one would think the outlook sounds good. But one must ask: Is it really good news? These large and complex projects will require skilled and specific trades. And this is where we see significant shortage and shortfall. There has been almost no attempt by any government to grab ahold of the trades debate and throw down a definitive solution to the lack of trade certification, training or education. The battle cry of ‘I can’t get a job in construction’ is a tired but oft used phrase when discussing labor and work permits. The hard truth is that there are specific skills involved in being a skilled worker. It’s not a matter of a willing worker with a pair of hands being given a job. We desperately need skilled and certified workers on the island in order to provide local jobs for these projects. Until then, we will continue to give jobs away to those who are qualified in spite of local labor supply.
In attempt to pinpoint deficiencies in the construction labor force, the CAOB has spearheaded Masonry Apprenticeship Courses and NCCER Core Training. Unfortunately, we are finding that there is a very serious literacy and mathematics deficiency with many of the individuals who are in construction – across all ages and abilities. The NCCER is designed for the aptitude of a S1 student and we see serious struggles with our local trainees. Not all is lost, but we need concerted effort to provide these students with the skills to achieve skills training and certification. It will take a long term view and long term investment to have this come to fruition. Until there is a united effort to right the wrongs of our education system, the construction industry will continue to suffer through labor shortages and political interference. Unfortunately, it will be the ‘regular’ Bermudians who will suffering the brunt of the impact with only getting basic labor jobs and not progressing through the trades as they have potential to do. Technical training/education is the only way forward and a comprehensive plan must be introduced as soon as possible.
The CAOB is ready, willing and able to assist in this effort and remain focused on creating positive outcomes. We need political and social will behind us to march ahead together. We can’t do it on our own.