VICTORIA, B.C.—To celebrate the launch of Construction Month, the BC Construction Association (BCCA) and its industry partners released fresh statistics and survey results to give a snapshot of construction in the province.
“From our standpoint, when we reflect, we always get a bit enthused when we see that we can introduce to most people the sheer size and scale of it,” said Chris Atchison, BCCA president.
Construction held the top spot in goods sector employment with more than 242,000 directly receiving pay for construction related work.
The current estimated value of construction projects underway is approximately $74 billion in addition to the $40 billion LNG Canada project in the north. With so many projects and employees, the industry accounts for 8.7 per cent of the province’s GDP.
According to a survey of more than 700 union and open-shop employers and employees, which was conducted late last year, skilled labour availability remains the main concern with nearly 70 per cent of respondents, regardless of age, labour affiliation, business type, or role in the industry citing the issue.
Other top concerns listed included B.C.’s Community Benefits Agreement framework; permits and red tape; productivity and management; and the quality of public procurement.
Atchison noted the stats show the industry has come a long way in addressing labour concerns.
“I think one of the most interesting things to see is the growth of the workforce while the skills gap has shrunk by 70 per cent,” he said.
According to stats from the association, the number of construction jobs in B.C. that will be unﬁlled due to labour shortages by 2028 is 7,900, a far cry from the 30,000 that used to be projected.
“It is going in the right direction,” he said, attributing the success to strategic training investment, an economic downturn in other provinces and a heightened awareness of trades opportunities.
“It all boils down to primarily one word: ‘opportunity,’” said Atchison. “Opportunity for work, opportunity to work with one’s hands, opportunity for prosperity, the legacy of working on some of these major projects and opportunity for change. This is a time of unprecedent growth. There seems to be an energy coursing through our industry that is exciting to see. People recognize and see the opportunity that exists.”
However, Atchison noted, as the LNG Canada project begins to ramp up, labour demand will increase.
“But we are a resilient and hardworking industry, we will innovate solutions,” he said. “We got some tricks up our sleeve yet.”
Rory Kulmala, CEO of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, echoed Atchison’s comments, agreeing the stats showcase the massive scope of the B.C. construction industry. He also recognized while progress has been made on finding and retaining labour, it will continue to be a concern going forward.
“We know we are going to be short of workers in the coming years,” said Kulmala. “We have to treat this as a priority to ensure we have the people trained now to continue the success in the future.”
He explained this requires two components: attraction and retention.
“Attraction is trying to compete with all the other sectors,” said Kulmala. “We in construction have a unique character to what we do. It takes a particular set of skills. In my mind it’s not an industry that’s biased towards any gender or race. There are opportunities that abound.”
He noted retention requires another focus, saying initiatives like the B.C. Builders Code could go a long way to show not only is construction lucrative and fulfilling work, but the construction environment is equitable and safe for women and other underrepresented groups. The BCCA stats show only 4.7 per cent of credentialed B.C. tradespeople are women.
Kulmala said the Community Benefits Agreement as well as red tape in some municipalities could also pose a challenge for the industry going forward.
“Affordability is on the mind of the community,” he said. “They look to the construction industry to build it cheaper and that’s not going to happen. Permits, taxes, tariffs – those all drive up costs significantly outside the control of the contractor community. These are things our industry has to cope with and the reality is costs that we incur get passed down.”
B.C. Construction Month is sponsored by the BCCA, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, WorkSafe BC, LNG Canada, Coastal GasLink, the BCCA Employee Benefits Trust and others. The month aims to celebrate the many contributions B.C.’s construction industry makes across the province.