VANCOUVER – A new forecast by BuildForce Canada predicts high construction volume and a surge in demand for workers will make finding new sources of labour crucial for B.C.’s construction industry.
BuildForce Canada’s 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward shows that the industry is already facing high work volume. Significant non-residential projects and unprecedented levels of housing starts combined to push construction activity in B.C. to record levels in 2019.
The high levels of work are putting pressure on already strained labour demand. And according to BuildForce, the industry will need to source 11,700 additional workers by 2021.
The report’s analysis of tracked projects shows that construction demands will remain exceptionally high for the next couple of years and peak in the latter half of 2021. However, even as demand moderates somewhat over the scenario period, BuildForce forecasts that demand levels will remain well above 2019 levels.
BuildForce’s analysis stressed that when coupled with the anticipated retirement of baby boomers from the labour force, the industry will face a difficult battle to pace with recruitment, training, and its labour force development needs during the coming decade.
The report states that the province’s construction and maintenance industry will be dominated mostly by non-residential projects, while the residential sector will also remain strong, as mild declines in new housing construction will be offset by growing renovation and maintenance demands.
“Unemployment in the B.C. construction industry remains at historically low levels, below 4 per cent,” said Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada. “While the industry will need to focus on long-term recruitment and skills development strategies, worker mobility will be critical to meeting the province’s anticipated construction needs, particularly over the short term.”
In the non-resdiential side of B.C.’s construction sector, demand is being driven by a handful of major overlapping projects, including Site C, the LNG Canada export terminal, the related TC Energy Coastal GasLink pipeline, and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. Major public infrastructure projects also include the Pattullo Bridge Replacement, several transit projects, and ongoing expansion work at the Vancouver International Airport.
Combined, these projects will increase employment demand in the non-residential sector by 10,300 skilled workers by 2021. Although non-residential employment will moderate throughout the decade, employment in the sector will be 6,700 workers higher than current levels by 2029.
Employment related to residential renovations and maintenance is projected to grow by 21,600 workers across the scenario period. While growth will be slightly dampened by lower overall demand for new housing, residential employment should rise by 8,300 workers (+7 per cent) over the decade, with the strongest gains seen between 2025 and 2027.
All construction employment in the province should be 14,900 workers higher than current levels by 2029. During this period, the province will experience 44,200 worker retirements. Based on historical trends, the industry can expect to draw an estimated 37,800 first-time local new entrants aged 30 and younger into the provincial labour force.
On its own, the densely-populated Lower Mainland region accounts for approximately 62 per cent of the industry’s overall employment, or 119,500 of the 192,600 workers employed in the province. Of these 119,500 workers, approximately 64 per cent work in the residential sector, with remaining 36 per cent divided up between industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) building construction, the maintenance sector, and engineering construction.
During the coming decade, the lower Mainland demand’s for both residential and non-residential construction is expected to rise, though non-residential demands, driven primarily by public-sector investments in the region’s infrastructure, should grow at a slightly higher rate.
Key near-term projects in Metro Vancouver include the Pattullo Bridge Replacement, the Vancouver International Airport expansion, pipeline projects, St. Paul’s hospital, the Millennium Line (Broadway), the Surrey Langley SkyTrain, and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority container expansion program. Nearly 7,500 additional non-residential workers will likely be required to meet these regional demands by 2021, with most of the increase concentrated in 2020.
To keep up with rapidly approaching historic labour shortfalls, BuildForce suggested a short-term using out-of-province workers as a short-term strategy to prevent project delays
But longer term, the industry must plan for the replacement of more than 25,300 workers expected to retire by 2029.
Although the industry is expected to recruit up to 22,900 first-time local new entrants aged 30 and younger during this period, a recruitment gap is expected to emerge.
“When added to the anticipated demand growth for workers in the region, the industry in the Lower Mainland will need to recruit nearly 17,500 workers from other provinces, other industries, or from outside the country to keep pace with currently known regional construction demands,” read a release from BuildForce.
Training skilled tradespeople will be a difficult obstacle. BuildForce noted that building a force of skilled worker takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. Between 2013 and 2019, more than 54,470 apprentices registered in the province’s 20 largest construction programs, with 19,300 completions reported during that period.
Based on current apprenticeship registration and completion trends, several trades may be at risk of not keeping pace with retirement levels that could potentially lead to an undersupply of certified journeypersons in some trades by 2029.
Trades most at risk for undersupply include boilermakers, carpenters, glaziers, heavy equipment operators, industrial electricians, lathers and metal fabricators, painters, and welders. However, BuildForce added that while apprentices alone cannot meet the significant near-term demand requirements for journeypersons, an ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will remain necessary to avoid potential future skills shortages in the industry.
BuildForce also noted that to meet labour needs, the industry will need to reach make headway in pursading underrepresented groups like women, new Canadians, Indigenous people
Building a sustainable labour force will also require the construction and maintenance industry to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians.
In 2019, approximately 36,300 women were employed in British Columbia’s construction industry, of which 34 per cent worked directly on construction projects. Of the 192,500 tradespeople employed in the province’s construction and maintenance industry, women made up only 6.4 per cent. Similarly, Indigenous people also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for little more than 5.7 per cent, of which 82 per cent worked directly on construction projects. BuildForce emphasized that increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to help the industry address its future labour force needs.
The province’s construction workforce is made up of approximately 24 per cent new Canadians. Over the coming decade, the province is expected to welcome an average of 50,000 newcomers every year. BuildForce noted that the immigrant population will be a crucial future source of construction and maintenance industry labour force growth.