Piling Canada

Construction Industry Labour Forecast

BuildForce Canada projects 10-year shortfall of more than 60,000 workers
Written by Kim Biggar
July 2023

In April, BuildForce Canada, a national industry-led organization representing all sectors of Canada’s construction industry, issued its “2023–2032 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward” national forecast. The report describes trends affecting the construction and maintenance industry, and provides an assessment of labour availability for 34 trades and occupations for the residential and non-residential construction sectors over 10 years. The report, published annually, helps decision-makers anticipate requirements to develop the labour force needed to meet future needs in Canada’s construction industry.

This year’s forecast states it “sees construction employment continuing to grow as the sector maintains its post-pandemic growth curve.” The non-residential sector, in particular, is expected to remain “on a steady upward trend in most provinces.”

The approach developed by BuildForce Canada to estimate future labour market conditions provides a planning tool for industry, government and other stakeholders to identify potential pressure points in Canada’s construction industry. The data reflects current industry expectations of population growth and the timing of major projects.

Construction industry growth causes and impacts

BuildForce Canada uses a proprietary economic model to produce a scenario forecast based on current demands and the available supply of construction labour. It considers the impact of significant projects on construction employment, retirements, recruitment and intra-regional and inter-provincial mobility, as well as the effects of immigration, population demographics and anticipated growth rates on the demands for construction services. The organization consults with industry stakeholders, including owners, contractors and labour groups, to validate the scenario assumptions and construction project lists.

“Knowing that the construction industry will grow and that the demand for construction workers will rise is essential information,” said Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada. “Having quality and timely labour market information (LMI) helps the industry plan for labour-force development. Construction stakeholders and training providers use this data to inform their recruiting and training decisions.”

This year’s results indicate that solid demand for construction services will require the construction labour force in the 34 trades and occupations monitored by BuildForce Canada (all construction-industry professions except management and office administration positions) to grow by 54,100 workers between 2023 and 2032. Adding that number to the 245,100 workers expected to retire during the 10 years puts recruitment requirements for the industry at 299,200 workers. The 20 per cent retirement of the 2022 workforce also represents a significant loss of skills and experience.

“That demand will be offset somewhat by the expected recruitment of as many as 237,800 new workers aged 30 and younger into the industry,” said Ferreira. “Nonetheless, our analysis projects a shortfall of as many as 61,400 workers.”

“Every industry, not just construction, has to consider how to bolster their diversity and inclusion strategies to welcome more newcomers to Canada into their workplaces.”

– Bill Ferreira, BuildForce Canada

The organization expects strong non-residential construction demand growth – through investments in health care, hospitals, institutional buildings, public transit and utilities, along with renovations in the residential, industrial, commercial and institutional sectors, especially in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island – to be the key drivers for that growth.

The construction industry has experienced significant growth over the past few years, outpacing the labour force’s ability to keep up. Non-residential construction employment demands have been high in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec, driven by major industrial projects such as pipelines, public transit, health care and infrastructure projects. In addition, low-interest rates, heightened immigration and low vacancy rates helped increase overall housing starts in 2021 and 2022, contributing to tighter residential-construction labour markets and very low levels of unemployment in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. In some regions, unemployment rates hit record lows in 2022.

The report notes that, in the short term, interest rates are expected to help moderate demands for residential construction. However, Ferreira says this reprieve will likely be short-lived, as housing investment is expected to rise again in 2024. Non-residential construction investment is expected to remain strong in most of the country. However, some moderation is expected in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and, to a lesser extent, British Columbia by mid-decade.

BuildForce Canada’s LMI forecast reports provide reliable data for stakeholders to build future labour-force development strategies. They do not offer specific policy prescriptions, but recommend diversification as a key solution to help increase overall industry recruitment.

Implications for recruitment

Recruiting underrepresented groups continues to be the approach to labour shortages recommended across industries in Canada. Women, Indigenous Peoples and newcomers to Canada are underrepresented in the construction sector across the country.

Diversifying recruitment to create a construction labour force that better reflects Canada’s population will not only help the industry address its labour-force shortage, but also promote equity, diversity and inclusion.

Population growth across the country is now being driven almost exclusively by immigration, says Ferreira.

“Every industry, not just construction, has to consider how to bolster their diversity and inclusion strategies to welcome more newcomers to Canada into their workplaces.”

The construction sector also has an opportunity to position itself as an industry of choice for women. Women account for just five per cent of all on-site employment in the industry, with an overall participation rate of just above 13 per cent for women. Increasing women’s participation in on-site professions will help address the industry’s future labour force recruitment needs.

Also, it’s crucial to attract young people. To reach this group, the industry must highlight its creative and technological aspects and financial benefits. Promoting itself as a diverse, inclusive and respectful industry will further attract youth.

Young people can reach important social goals in the construction profession while working on projects that stand the test of time, such as the electrification of the economy and pollution control. These are also well-paying jobs.

Better dissemination of this information to youth, their parents, guidance counsellors and employment service providers would help the industry improve its overall recruitment outcomes and ensure it continues to maintain its share of youth entering the labour force.

Unfortunately, courses such as home economics and shop, once widely offered in secondary schools, have been discontinued in many areas, leaving graduates with no direct exposure to building-craft skills.

Governments at all levels, however, are working to promote careers in the trades to young people and increase apprenticeship development.

“While it’s still early, we have seen increased interest in apprenticeship in many provinces,” said Ferreira. “The new Canadian Apprenticeship Service federal program is helping to create new opportunities for Red Seal first-year apprentices. The program hasn’t concluded yet, but we expect to see a rise in apprenticeships across the country next year.”

They are also helping newcomers and workers displaced from other industries find trade opportunities, as well as implementing immigration reforms to increase the number of skilled trade workers admitted to Canada annually. Many provincial governments have prioritized selecting skilled trade immigrants under their provincial nominee programs. In contrast, the federal government has instituted a dedicated intake of skilled trade workers in many of the skilled construction trades in the National Occupation Classifications.

Employers can take advantage of newcomers – economic immigrants and refugees – already in Canada. Working with settlement organizations to hire newcomers is one thing they can do immediately to broaden their recruitment outside traditional channels, and many are. 

Category: Cover Story

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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