Rising to the challenges inherent in running a business is a key factor to success in any industry. As Wellington County’s full-service metal company, O’Brien Fabrications Ltd. has dealt with many challenges over its more than three decades of operation in Guelph. However, as founder Mike O’Brien sees it, the industry is facing a critical shortage in its most precious commodity – qualified workers.
“Our biggest challenge would be attaining quality tradespeople,” said O’Brien, who now serves as General Manager after selling the company and semi-retiring. “We have not promoted the trades for a generation and it’s really coming back to bite people. There’s a huge deficit of quality tradespeople. Not just in my industry, but pretty much in every business that relies on tradespeople.”
Even in this challenging labour environment, O’Brien Fabrications has continued to build on its reputation as the “go-to guys” for all things metal in the area. The company O’Brien co-founded over 30 years ago with one partner and one truck is now a company employing 32 people, operating a fleet of 20 trucks and focusing on three distinct divisions of operation: steel roof and siding, commercial heating and air conditioning systems, and welding and fabricating. Those are three very stable industries for employment, which is why O’Brien sees government initiatives designed to attract young people into the trades as a long overdue strategy.
“I know prior to COVID the Government was ramping up with expediting some apprenticeship programs,” he said. “They’re trying to make it more attractive for people to get into the trades. We’ve totally missed the boat with parents sending kids to university and getting their Master’s degree, only to wind up ‘underemployed’ in a completely different industry, as opposed to working in the trades. That includes cement and paving people, tree arborists and others.”
In his lengthy career with the company, O’Brien has spent a great deal of time with his team building and fabricating things. However, helping to build a young person’s career in the trades has always been one of his greatest joys as a business owner.
“I love it,” said O’Brien, whose company offers attractive wage, benefit and vehicle packages to help in new talent recruitment and retention. “Developing these kids as employees, watching them grow to become vital parts of the organization, settling in, getting married and raising their families. I look back at some of the pictures now and it’s pretty rewarding.”
As the industry has changed, so too has the focus at O’Brien Fabrications, where CWB mobile welding services and high-end custom residential work are the company’s two biggest areas of growth.
“For example, we recently did custom work on a $15 million home. That area of the business is increasing all the time.”
For more information on the company and possible employment opportunities, visit O’Brien Fabrications Ltd. online at obrienfabrications.ca.