The impending shortage: Canadian construction industry has 300,000 jobs to fill over next decade
By David Kennedy
OTTAWA—A huge cohort of retirees, plus a small uptick in the demand for Canadian construction workers over the next 10 years will leave the industry with hundreds of thousands of jobs to fill by 2028, according to the latest BuildForce Canada assessment.
The research organization forecasts that 261,000 industry veterans will hang up their hard hats over the next decade, outstripping the number of projected new recruits (221,300) by nearly 40,000. Coupled with an expected four per cent increase in labour demands, which translates to 44,100 new positions, the construction industry, along with the closely-linked industrial maintenance industry, will need to attract roughly 80,000 more men and women than it currently expects in order to meet demand.
If ignoring new recruit projections, construction employers need to book just over 300,000 new hires over the next decade.
Though hardly news to industry watchers, who have witnessed the labour market tighten considerably over the past several years, BuildForce’s latest forecast confirms that the trend shows few signs of abating. In fact, it’s intensifying. The comparable study released a year ago indicated the industry would need to fill 277,000 job openings by 2027.
“Maintaining capacity to meet construction labour force needs will require focused efforts on recruiting, training, and retaining young workers, even under a slower-growth scenario,” said Bill Ferreira, the industry-led research group’s executive director. “Even if the full potential of interprovincial mobility is realized, industry will likely still need to expand recruiting efforts for new workers from local sources of labour, from other industries, and from new immigrants to meet the industry’s long-term needs.”
While BuildForce anticipates the strong growth experienced over much of the previous 20 years will plateau by 2021, before growth resumes at a slower pace toward 2028, contractors will still need to make more of an effort to entice and retain workers. Certain provinces will also ramp up construction work considerably as jobs in other regions dry up, meaning a segment of the labour workforce will need to relocate.
The labour squeeze is driven partly by wider population trends. Like other developed countries, Canada faces an aging population and a slower growth rate. By 2028, the average Canadian construction worker will be 42-years-old and about 22 per cent of the current workforce will be kicking back in retirement. Because veterans cannot be replaced overnight — training is often a years-long process involving apprenticeships — the industry and individual companies need to act early. BuildForce also noted that attracting new entrants will rely on the industry’s ability to keep youth interested in the trades.
On a sector basis, residential builders will need to hire 135,900 workers (to replace 129,100 retirees and fill 6,800 new positions) between 2019 and 2028. Non-residential demands are even higher. With 131,900 workers slated for retirement and an expected 32,400 new positions, firms will need to attract and retain 164,300 new employees.
To make up for the impending shortage of workers, the BuildForce report says the industry must focus its recruitment efforts on traditionally underrepresented groups, namely women, Indigenous Canadians and immigrants.
Last year, women amounted to just 13 per cent of the construction and maintenance industry labour force, and a paltry 3.8 per cent of on-site workers. Across all Canadian industries, meanwhile, women make up 48 per cent of the labour force. Despite this huge gap, there are some promising indicators. The 13 per cent level achieved last year is the highest on record and comes after nearly 30 years of stagnation, during which women made up between 10 and 12 per cent of the construction workforce. Meanwhile, over the past three years, women in direct trade positions increased 30 per cent. After a modest forecast decline over the next two years, female employment in construction is expected to increase eight per cent between 2021 and 2028.
Unlike women, who make up a far smaller percentage of the construction workforce than demographics suggest they should, Indigenous Canadians are more likely to go into construction than the population as a whole. The 2016 census showed 9.6 per cent of Indigenous Canadians were employed in construction, versus 7.6 per cent of non-Indigenous Canadians. Still, BuildForce says increasing the construction participation level for Indigenous Canadians, a population that is growing far faster than Canada as a whole, would help considerably in addressing the industry’s labour shortage.
Finally, with some 300,000 immigrants arriving in Canada in each of the next 10 years, the research group says any effort to build a sustainable labour force will require fresh initiatives to attract newcomers. Construction has traditionally been a career of choice for immigrants to Canada — currently accounting for 18 per cent of the industry’s workforce — but a key shift is underway employers need to address.
In past years, those arriving from Europe and North and South America made up a significant portion of Canada’s immigrants, but recent years have changed migration patterns so that nearly two-thirds of immigrants are now from Asia. The consequences for construction are considerable, as new Canadians from countries such as the Philippines, India, China, Iran, and Syria are far less likely to go into construction than their counterparts from Europe and the Americas. To continue attracting a large number of new Canadians to the industry, construction firms will need to redouble their recruitment efforts, BuildForce says.