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Canadian construction labour demand will require 300,000 new workers over decade


February 11, 2020
By Newswire
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Ottawa – Employment in Canada’s construction and maintenance industry is anticipated to grow by 50,200 workers by 2029. The industry will need to recruit more than 307,000 workers over the decade to keep pace with demand, according to the labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

BuildForce Canada’s 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward national report forecasts intensifying labour demand commencing in 2020, propelled by major public transportation and infrastructure, utility, liquefied natural gas (LNG), pipeline, and health services projects. New-housing construction is expected to bounce back in most provinces, building on growing non-residential construction and maintenance demands fuelled by ongoing investments in public and private infrastructure and increasing heavy industrial maintenance requirements.

“Canada’s construction outlook has strengthened from last year,” says Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada. “Our scenario predicts that growth will slow in the latter half of the decade, although labour market challenges are anticipated to intensify as the retirement wave crests and the pool of available youth shrinks.”

The most significant growth is expected to take place between 2020 and 2021.

British Columbia will remain the fastest-growing market in 2020 and 2021, driven by public transportation projects, pipelines, and work on the LNG Canada project and related pipeline infrastructure.

Ontario is expected to peak in 2020, driven by major project requirements in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Southwestern Ontario. These include light rail transit (LRT) projects, two nuclear refurbishment projects, and other infrastructure-related demands. This will be followed by a second peak expected in 2026.

Quebec’s infrastructure investments in roads, highways, bridges, health care, education, and public transit are expected to accelerate in 2020 and 2021, building on four years of growth.

Prince Edward Island also continues to grapple with expansions in housing and institutional requirements, while Nova Scotia braces for increased demands driven by several health care projects expected over the next few years.

“Meeting anticipated peak employment demands in British Columbia and Ontario will likely require significant levels of interprovincial mobility,” says Ferreira. “Accessing workers from provinces where market conditions have softened will be critical.”

The outlook for the national residential sector has improved significantly, as robust immigration-driven population growth is expected to support high levels of new homebuilding through 2026. That pace of growth is expected to moderate thereafter, as increasing retirements should contribute to lower overall demand for new homes. While new-home construction may soften, renovation and maintenance requirements are anticipated to rise significantly. Overall, total residential construction employment is expected to rise by 17,200 workers over the 2020–2029 period.

Non-residential employment demands are also expected to grow throughout the scenario period. The principle driver has been an explosion of major projects in the energy and utilities sectors, public transportation, and other institutional infrastructure projects. Growth in retail and wholesale trade, the transportation and warehousing sectors, and manufacturing should further boost construction of industrial buildings, while immigration-driven population growth will maintain upward pressure on commercial and institutional construction.

Employment in non-residential construction is expected to rise by 33,100 workers over the scenario period.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. As such, replacing retiring workers typically requires several years of pre-planning to avoid the creation of skills gaps. By 2029, an estimated 257,100 construction workers, or 22 per cent of the 2019 labour force, are expected to retire. Based on historical trends, Canada’s construction industry is expected to draw an estimated 227,600 first-time entrants aged 30 and younger from the local population, leaving the industry with a possible retirement-recruitment gap of 29,500 workers. When coupled with demand growth, the industry may be short as many as 82,400 workers by 2029. Clearly, an ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will be necessary to ensure there are sufficient numbers of qualified tradespeople to sustain a skilled labour force over the long term.

To meet its growing needs, the construction and maintenance industry will need to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians.

In 2019, Canada’s construction industry employed approximately 191,700 women, of which 27 per cent worked directly on construction projects. Of the 1.1 million tradespeople employed in the industry, women made up only 4.7 per cent. Similarly, Indigenous people accounted for little more than 4.9 per cent of the total, of which about 81 per cent work directly on construction projects. Increasing the participation of both these groups would go a long way to help the industry address future labour force needs.

New Canadians currently make up approximately 18 per cent of Canada’s construction labour force. Over the coming decade, Canada is seeking to admit an average of 330,000 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important source of potential workers.

“The construction industry will need to concentrate on recruiting, training, and retaining young workers, even as peak labour demand slows,” says Ferreira. “Even if the labour market leverages full interprovincial mobility, the industry will still need to be diligent in recruiting, training, and retaining young workers, and expand recruiting efforts for new workers from local labour, other industries, and new immigrants to meet ongoing labour needs.”

BuildForce Canada is a national industry-led organization that represents all sectors of Canada’s construction industry. Its mandate is to provide accurate and timely labour market data and analysis, as well as programs and initiatives to help manage labour force requirements and build the capacity and the capability of Canada’s construction and maintenance industry. Visit www.constructionforecasts.ca.