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250,000 new construction workers needed across Canada

Kelly Lapointe

Worker mobility, recruitment and training will be key as the Canadian construction industry needs to recruit more than 250,000 new workers, predicts a recent construction labour market forecast.


“The story really does play out at the provincial level and the local level, where we can see that some provinces have steady, slower growth all the way out to 2021. Whereas, we have other provinces like Newfoundland and Saskatchewan will have peaks and valleys,” explained Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada, formerly the Construction Sector Council, which released Construction Looking Forward, National Summary 2013–2021.

“It’s understanding where the projects are taking place, which are really going to draw in significant amounts of labour and then understanding from that. Will there be opportunities through mobile workers to go where the work is?”

The institutional and commercial sectors will provide steady year-by-year growth in most provinces, but big resource projects, including electrical generation and transmission, mining and oil and gas pipelines create more volatility in industrial and utility construction.

These overall projected net gains in employment are lower than those reported in last year’s forecast, as weaker economic prospects postpone some projects and hold back investment.

>Last year’s forecast predicted the need for 319,000 new construction workers from 2012 to 2020 and though that number is lower this year, Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Michael Atkinson said this does not mean the industry’s problems are less than they were a year ago.

“If you have one or two or three major projects slightly delayed and fall out of their scope period, that can have a big impact,” he said.

By 2021, expanding activity will add 44,000 jobs in non-residential construction, while an estimated 8,000 jobs will be lost in residential.

“We’re filling that need either domestically or through measures like the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” he said.

“The fact that the total number has gone down doesn’t suggest to me that the problem is getting less, if anything it’s probably getting worse because our overall workforce is continuing to age.”

This year’s forecast predicts there will be 210,000 retiring workers.

“Overall, if we keep our eye on the retirement number, that really is a gauge for the challenge ahead,” said Sparks.

BuildForce Canada has just started to look at the issue of people staying in the construction industry longer, though anecdotally Sparks has heard more people are delaying retirement due to financial reasons.


important thing will be to utilize those people to mentor new younger people coming along and make sure we transfer that knowledge over to the new generation of workers,” she said.

“They’re going to be some of your most skilled workers walking out the door.”

BuildForce Canada said there are three distinct cycles across regions and sectors in the forecast period.

The first cycle involves resource projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan that are driving a surge in labour requirements, which began in 2011, and will continue to 2014 or 2015, as known proposed major projects peak.

A second cycle is concentrated around Alberta’s major projects, both in the oilsands and supporting infrastructure, which started in 2011 and 2012 and are adding to current labour requirements.

Current and proposed infrastructure projects wind down in 2014 and 2015, while oilsands work holds steady at current high levels.

A further round of oilsands expansion is expected to start in 2016 and, by 2021, carry labour requirements about 20 per cent higher.

A third cycle of non-residential building is expected to ramp up in Ontario, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), across the 2014–2018 period, with a projected peak in 2018.

A big increase in industrial and engineering projects occurs in British Columbia from 2012 to 2015.

Resource projects in B.C. peak in 2014 just as the first round of projects in other provinces end, but before the big Alberta and GTA buildup starts.

The answer to labour mobility has been to pay more, said Atkinson, but this may not be the incentive needed for the workers of today or the future.

He said the recognition of qualifications and skills is still an issue to some extent.

“The bigger issue is probably the societal one of people having to leave families, working in remote areas,” he said.

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