Vacancy rates for construction jobs are reaching record levels, new data shows.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Canada’s private sector job vacancy rate advanced again in the first quarter of the year, reaching 3.3 per cent, up 0.1 percentage point from the previous quarter. In total, 435,000 jobs sat vacant for at least four months during the first quarter of 2019.
Quebec and B.C. were hit hardest, with overall vacancy rates of 4.1 per cent and 3.6 per cent, respectively. The construction is showing the highest rates of vacancy of any industry.
“We are certainly seeing a large uptick in vacancy rates in the construction sector,” said Ted Mallet, vice president and chief economist for CFIB. “It now equals the high point seen before the 2008 financial crisis. It does go up and down based on a business cycle, but it certainly looks like we have reached a very high level for the industry as whole.”
According to the CFIB, vacancy rates in construction have reached 4.9 per cent, outpacing all other industries and the national average. Businesses in agriculture (3.8 per cent), hospitality (3.7 per cent), professional services (3.6 per cent) and transportation (3.6 per cent) also faced tight labour markets. Overall, vacancy rates advanced in all sectors, except for manufacturing (3 per cent), oil and gas (2.3 per cent), finance (2.1 per cent) and information (1.9 per cent), which saw no change.
Mallet explained that construction jobs are physically demanding and less popular than other careers, making positions harder to fill. He added that work often takes place in remote settings. Also, smaller firms are being hit hardest, where even one or two vacancies can leave them woefully understaffed. “The national vacancy rate has been steadily climbing for the past two years and it reached another record high last quarter,” said Mallett. “The rate of growth is slowing compared to this time last year, but employers in Quebec, B.C. and Ontario are having a harder and harder time finding workers, especially in the smallest businesses.”
Mallet explained that other industries have found creative ways to deal with this
“At a Tim Hortons or McDonalds, you can order a meal from a kiosk, but you can’t do that in construction,” he said.
However new products and labour-saving approaches could help soften the blow.
“There are many products, new materials and building systems that are geared to reduce the labour component,” said Mallet. “That’s where a lot of contractors are moving towards. Speed up the process at the job site and lessen the necessity for particular types of labour.”
Mallet also encouraged policies to bring in more people to the industry and get them through school and apprenticeships quickly.
“Getting people faster out of schools and on to jobsites would certainly help,” he said.
The CFIB is one of Canada’s largest associations of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every industry and region.