BuildForce Canada’s provincial construction labour market forecasts


Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer

BuildForce Canada reports different construction labour force issues around the country.  Notably, even in areas where there are job losses currently, retirements are expected to outpace new entrants to the labour force in the next few years.

British Columbia – Construction workforce poised for growth

The ramp-up of major projects in B.C., from proposed transportation, pipeline and LNG projects to highway and bridgework will bolster the province’s construction workforce by 24 per cent, or almost 17,000 workers over the next five years.

“It’s potentially the most rapid rise we’ve seen in B.C.’s construction workforce in the past decade,” said BuildForce executive director Rosemary Sparks. “The pace and magnitude of many of these proposed projects will require the steady recruitment of new workers from the local workforce and from outside construction or outside the province to meet labour demands, especially in remote locations.”

BuildForce’s forecast shows proposed transportation, pipeline, and LNG and mining investments are the primary driver behind B.C.’s construction job growth from now to the peak in 2021. Industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) building also continues on an upward trend, while new housing is expected to cycle down this year, following a period of extended expansion.

The forecast also shows:

  • Following peak levels of activity, residential employment is expected to decline by about 15 percent workforce over the scenario period;
  • Renovation and maintenance work is expected to exceed new housing by 2022, accounting for almost two-thirds of residential employment;
  • The need to replace as many as 40,000 baby boomers retiring from construction in the next 10 years.

“The retirement of 21 per cent of B.C.’s construction workforce compounds the challenge for recruiters,” Sparks said. “Attracting more women and indigenous people to construction could be a big part of the solution in filling that skills gap. Right now they make up just four percent of the province’s skilled construction workforce.”

Alberta: Second smaller wave of construction job losses expected

Alberta’s construction industry is projected to lose up to 11,000 jobs over the coming year as several large projects reach completion and low oil prices continue to limit new investment and growth.

“While a staggered recovery is expected to start next year, it won’t lift all sectors of construction until about 2024,”Sparks said. “It’s a complex transition period for industry that needs to ensure it has a skilled workforce trained and ready as the economy turns around.”

The BuildForce forecast shows that the pace of overall job losses will ease in 2017. However, the slumping oil and gas sector and the completion of major projects will drive non-residential construction employment still lower by 2018. Commercial and industrial building is expected to decline this year and next. Road, highway and bridge activity slows, with job losses only partially offset by infrastructure stimulus funding.

The rise in shutdown/turnaround work results in periodic recruitment challenges for specialized trades, while continuing growth in sustaining and maintenance work becomes an important source of employment. As the economy improves, new housing construction is expected to pick up starting in 2018, with ICI building following suit. Recovery in oil sands and other engineering-related work likely won’t begin until later in the forecast period. Although more moderate job growth is expected over the long term, unemployment rates will remain above average this decade compared to the last.

The forecast also shows:

  • A recovery in new housing activity projected in 2018 and 2019, which adds back 10,000 jobs. By 2026, residential employment is above 2016 levels by 10 per cent;
  • A further loss of 9,300 oil sands construction jobs through to 2023 with recovery not expected until the following year;
  • The need to replace over 36,000 workers who are retiring this decade.

Saskatchewan: Residential building and major projects help sustain employment

Modest gains in new home building this year, a second wave of planned mining, utility and pipeline projects, and a steady rise in maintenance work will help restore construction employment to previous highs by 2021.

“Construction employment will sustain at high levels as residential building and major projects cycle up and down this decade,” Sparks said. “Meeting rising labour requirements by 2020, will mean persuading many of the workers who may have left the province to head back.”

 The forecast shows new home construction is expected to recover this year, sustaining stable levels of residential employment through to 2022. After that, slower population growth reduces housing starts and related employment. Industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) building is expected to decline over the short term, then resume after 2019 depending on the timing of a series of planned utility, pipeline and mining projects. Employment will decline with the completion of major projects, however rising maintenance and sustaining capital work will help keep construction employment at relatively high levels.

BuildForce Canada’s forecast also shows:

  • Major projects are expected to add 2,200 jobs, a 15 percent increase by 2021;
  • Projects completions release more than 4,000 workers, with many absorbed by rising maintenance and other non-residential construction markets;
  • The need to replace over 9,000 workers expected to retire within 10 years.

“Industry needs to stay focused on recruiting new workers even when construction growth slows,” Spark said. “The slower economy compounds the challenge of replacing 17 percent of the skilled workforce that’s expected to retire this decade.”

Manitoba:  Major projects keep the workforce growing strong

Major hydro, transmission and pipeline projects are expected to drive construction employment to a new high this year, with as many as 9,000 new workers needed this decade to keep pace with construction and baby boom retirements.

“This year marks the height of two years of strong construction growth in the province,” said Sparks. “When the current up cycle in hydro and transmission work winds down, a series of new projects will start. It’s a level of construction activity that requires new workers, especially as industry contends with an aging workforce.”

The forecast shows construction activity reaching its highest point this year with major hydro and transmission projects, industrial and commercial building as well as mining, road, highway and bridgework all underway. As these projects wind down between 2018 and 2022, they’re offset by ongoing hydro work and the anticipated start of planned mining, pipeline and government infrastructure investments that result in a moderate rise in non-residential employment to 2026.

New housing construction and home renovation work is on the rise this year, driving residential employment to a new high in 2022 before returning to current levels by the end of the forecast period.             Construction employment in the province will remain at record levels for the next decade.

The BuildForce Canada’s forecast also shows:

  • Maintenance requirements rise over the next decade absorbing some of the declines in engineering construction work after 2022;
  • Women make up three per cent of the province’s skilled construction workforce while 11 percent are indigenous people;
  • Up to 19 per cent of the construction workforce is retiring over the next 10 years.

“Industry needs to stay focused on attracting more women and Indigenous people to construction,”  Sparks said. “They could make a big difference in helping to counter the loss of as many as 8,100 workers who are retiring this decade.”

Ontario: Major projects important for industry as rising retirements create opportunities, challenges

Major infrastructure, transportation and utility projects are creating a decade’s worth of work for Ontario’s construction workforce. These projects will sustain employment over the next 10 years, while the impending wave of baby boom retirements becomes the bigger challenge for industry,

“Ontario is losing as many as 86,000 workers this decade to retirement,” said Sparks. “It’s a huge loss of skill and experience that requires a concerted effort to attract more youth, women and Indigenous people to construction as well as workers from outside the province.”

Between now and 2020, labour demands in the province will intensify for current and planned infrastructure and major engineering projects.

“Labour mobility across regions will be key in meeting rising demands for specialized trades,”  she said.

The organization’s Ontario forecast shows that while the pace of construction is projected to slow, major projects will sustain construction employment at near record levels over the next decade.   From an international bridge in Windsor to nuclear refurbishment and transit expansion in the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa, infrastructure projects will surpass residential building as the primary source of construction job growth in many regions of Ontario. Construction employment is expected to peak in 2020, marking the plateau of a 25-year expansion that has doubled the size Ontario’s construction workforce.

Forecast highlights including the following:

  • Residential building drives employment higher in 2017 before stabilizing, while home renovation work grows steadily;
  • Institutional and commercial building remains steady while modest growth in manufacturing spurs industrial building between 2019 and 2020;
  • More than 20 percent of Ontario’s construction workforce is expected to retire this decade.

BuildForce Canada’s forecast by region:

Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

  • Most of the province’s construction job growth will be in the GTA, where labour demands for major utility, transportation and other infrastructure projects are expected to be highest in 2022.
  • Residential building, driven by condo construction and renovation work is expected to remain at historically high levels over the forecast period.

Southwest Ontario

  • Construction activity is expected to rise this year and next, driven by major projects and gains in commercial and institutional building. As many as 3,500 jobs are added to 2020, a 30 per cent rise in engineering employment driven by major projects including the start of a proposed nuclear refurbishment project.
  • Housing starts rise modestly to 2021, then cycle down.

Central Ontario

  • Construction employment is sustained near current levels by a rise in industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) building and stable engineering investment.
  • Tradespeople involved in new housing construction are in demand as residential building reaches peak activity this year, before softening in 2018 and 2019.

Eastern Ontario

  • Non-residential job growth increases over the short-term driven by spin-off activity related to Light Rail Transit and other infrastructure projects, adding as many as 2,300 jobs to 2021.
  • After reaching peak activity this year, new housing remains relatively stable until 2021, then declines, while renovation works stays near current levels.

Northern Ontario

  • Following several years of decline, housing starts are projected to rise across the forecast period.
  • There’s a modest recovery in commercial and institutional building, and a slight rise in engineering employment to 2021 before receding, as current and proposed projects wind down.
  • Low commodity prices have delayed new resource development projects

Quebec:  Moderate changes with divergence between residential and commercial sectors

BuildForce reports that there will be moderate changes in construction employment from 2017-2026, “although residential and non-residential sectors are expected to diverge.”

“Construction employment in the province has been experiencing modest declines since 2013, largely related to a down-cycle in new housing and major project completions,” BuildForce reports.        “Momentum shifts in 2017 with the start of a modest up-cycle in non-residential activity, which is expected to peak in 2019, while residential continues to track downward.”

BuildForce says potential retirements are significant and have recently begun to consistently outpace estimated new entrants. “An anticipated 45,500 workers are expected to retire across the scenario period, becoming a key focus of recruitment requirements.

“Quebec’s population is growing, but natural population growth (births less deaths) is slowing. Immigration will continue to be an important source of labour supply over the next decade. The construction industry will need to draw from immigration and other markets to recruit the needed workforce.”

Nova Scotia: Industry needs to prepare for demographic one-two punch

Recruitment efforts will focus on countering a huge wave of retirements this decade, with more 8,000 new construction workers needed to replace retirees.

“Industry needs to get ready for the impending demographic double-whammy,” Sparks said. “The pool of available young workers is shrinking just as 25 per cent of the current workforce gets set to retire in rapid succession. It takes careful planning to counter the loss of 8,000 retirees. Industry is losing a lot of skill and experience.”

The BuildForce Canada survey forecast shows industrial building, engineering construction and maintenance work is expected to sustain construction employment near current levels even as residential building slows and population growth declines. The completion of current projects reduces labour requirements this year and next, while shipbuilding and manufacturing activity rise in 2019 and 2020.

The forecast also shows:

  • Residential construction will decline by 18 per cent over the next 10 years with the loss of 3,000 jobs, while renovation work resumes growth after 2021;
  • Non-residential construction rises including maintenance, adding 1,300 jobs, a 10 per cent increase this decade.

“Nova Scotia has one of the oldest populations in Atlantic Canada, making it far more challenging to build a sustainable workforce,”  Sparks said. “That puts greater emphasis on attracting workers from outside the province to meet labour requirements.”

Prince Edward Island: Baby boomer exodus to challenge industry

As many as 1,500 construction workers are needed this decade to keep pace with major projects, an upswing in new home building and the rapid rise in retirements.

“Baby boomers are leaving PEI’s construction industry in such rapid succession that it’s getting harder to replace them,”  says Sparks. “Countering the loss of 26 per cent of the workforce over the next 10 years is a real challenge when retirees already exceed the number of local youth expected to enter the workforce”

The BuildForce forecast shows moderate job growth in residential and non-residential construction over the next decade. The strongest gains in both sectors are anticipated over the next five years, with the addition of 600 new jobs. Institutional and commercial building rises steadily to 2022 while industrial building remains stable.

A transmission project, significant road, highway and bridgework sustain engineering employment at high levels before receding after 2020. New housing demands rise over the next five years, driven by steady levels of immigration. As residential activity declines, non-residential construction sustains employment above current levels.

The forecast also shows:

  • Rising residential construction creates as many as 400 jobs between now and 2022 before receding back to 2016 employment levels;
  • Renovation activity declines in the short term before resuming growth over the long term;
  • Non-residential construction employment, including maintenance, is expected to rise 10 percent, adding 250 jobs over the forecast period.

“Steady recruitment and training is a must to help build PEI’s construction workforce,” Sparks says. “As the pool of local younger workers gets smaller, industry will need to stay focused on recruiting from other industries or outside the province.”

New Brunswick: Proposed major projects drive construction job growth

The province’s construction workforce is expected to grow by 12 per cent over the coming decade, driven by a recovery in new housing, steady rise in industrial and commercial building and potential planned energy and utility projects.

“Most of the job growth could happen over the next five years,” Sparks said. “A lot depends on the timing of key pipeline, marine terminal and energy projects which could create recruitment challenges as thousands of workers retire.”

The forecast shows rising construction demands over the coming decade driven by stable residential building and proposed major projects. The biggest employment gains are anticipated between now and 2020, as an increase in ICI building could coincide with planned pipeline, mining and other infrastructure projects.

These investments offset a decline in road, highway and bridge work over the next five years and contribute to a rise in maintenance work over the latter half of the decade. Construction expansion is expected to raise employment in a series of waves, adding 2,600 jobs over the next 10 years.

BuildForce Canada’s forecast also shows:

  • A modest rise in housing starts to 2020, while home renovation activity strengthens between 2020 and 2026;
  • Engineering related projects could add 1,700 jobs, a 36 per cent increase over ten years;
  • The need to replace 28 per cent of the workforce, or 7,600 workers who are retiring this decade, well above the national average.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Contraction expected as major projects wind down

Falling oil and gas prices and major project completions and delays will significantly reduce the construction workforce over the next five years, creating potential recruitment challenges when a new round of projects start later in the period.

“The current downturn and rising retirements make it all the more difficult to prepare for the next wave of proposed engineering projects,” Sparks said. “Over 3,000 workers may be needed when those projects are expected to start in 2022.”

The BuildForce Canada forecast shows rising unemployment as major projects wind down and mining and offshore development projects are delayed. As the population declines, new housing construction continues to cycle down and home renovation work softens. Ongoing road, highway and non-residential maintenance work result in small job gains in 2017. The anticipated recovery is expected to stabilize new housing investment and increase home renovation and ICI building construction. The start of potential planned new resource projects between 2022 and 2024 will drive job growth, although employment will remain 25 per cent below 2016 levels by the end of the forecast period.

The forecast also shows:

  • Overall residential employment is expected to decline by 20 percent over the next ten years with most job losses between now and 2020;
  • The loss of an additional 6,500 non-residential construction jobs between 2017 and 2021;
  • As many as 3,900 jobs may be added at the height of the proposed second wave of engineering projects between 2022 and 2025.

“A strong focus on recruitment and training is a must, with over 5,000 skilled workers retiring this decade,” added Sparks. “That’s 21 per cent of the workforce that isn’t easily replaced, especially during a slower economy.”


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