BuildForce looks ahead: Slow growth predicted for Canadian construction industry

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Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer

BuildForce Canada, in its annual national survey of the construction industry, indicates that construction employment will decline slightly this year coupled with an overall slight sector investment growth.

Despite a seven per cent predicted decline in residential construction, labour shortages are still anticipated because BuildForce projects the rapid retirement of an anticipated 21 per cent of the construction workforce.

“That impending wave of baby boom retirements we’ve been hearing so much about is here,” said  BuildForce executive director Rosemary Sparks. “This decade, as many as 248,000 skilled workers are retiring en mass. It’s a tremendous loss of experience that’s even harder to make up in a slow economy.”

BuildForce Canada’s 2017-2026 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward forecast shows construction activity is expected to soften across most provinces as new residential activity declines and major projects reach completion.

Labour requirements will vary by province with resource-driven markets such as Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador continuing to weaken as current projects wind down. In other provinces, including British Columbia, New Brunswick and Ontario, ongoing work along with the anticipated start of planned utility, pipeline, transportation and other infrastructure projects will create new job opportunities. The timing of proposed projects vary and labour requirements are unevenly distributed across the provinces.

Over the latter half of the forecast period, project completions and declining housing activity return construction employment back to near 2016 levels in most provinces.

Non-Residential

Key regions where new job opportunities are anticipated:

  • NB:Pipeline, marine terminal and hydro dam refurbishment projects increase employment demands;
  • ON: Major transit infrastructure projects and nuclear refurbishment projects add to employment opportunities across the forecast period;
  • MB: Major hydro development and transmission projects sustain employment requirements.
  • BC: Pipeline, LNG, transportation and mining projects drive job growth.

Residential

Housing activity is expected to moderate in the two largest residential markets – British Columbia and Ontario. Over the short term, residential employment requirements strengthen in Alberta and Manitoba and continue to track downward in Quebec as well as Atlantic Canada over the long term. Residential construction employment is expected to decline by 7 percent, only partially offset by steady but moderate increases in renovation activity.

“Not attracting and training enough young workers is a huge risk for the construction industry,” added Sparks. “With thousands of new workers needed to replace retirees, industry can’t afford to take its foot off the gas.”

In is report, BuildForce says that “attracting and training uyoung workers during a periof of slower growth presents distinct industry challenges.”

“Recruitment may be more difficult in provinces that have experienced significant declines in jobs, which may result in an increased risk of losing workers to other industries or provinces in search of more secure employment opportunities.”

“Failure to sustain recruiting efforts, however, poses significant future risks,” BuildForce reports. “Declines in training new workers during past downturns has resulted in renewed market challenges when investment and labour demands cycle back up, even under conditions of more moderate growth. The lag between recruiting, training and developing skilled journeypersons can create a perpetual, cyclical mismatch between workforce requirements and available supply. Industry must continue to track changing conditions, including expansion, expected retirements and new entrants, to remain a step ahead and maintain a long-term sustainable skilled workforce.”

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