British Columbia’s construction and maintenance industry will need to attract an additional 14,600 workers to meet peak labour demands in 2021, according to the latest labour market forecast released Jan. 31 by BuildForce Canada.
BuildForce Canada’s 2019–2028 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial forecast report shows the B.C. construction and maintenance industry will be driven primarily by non-residential projects, although residential projects, including high-rise residential, will continue to require workers as new construction gives way to strong demand for renovation work.
This year’s report marks the first time BuildForce has produced forecasts specific to the Lower Mainland where, despite a slowing pace in housing starts, a second consecutive year of widespread growth across all non-residential construction segments drove unemployment to its lowest levels since 2007. An estimated 11,900 additional workers will be needed to meet construction demands in the Lower Mainland by 2021.
“The province is already facing challenges in meeting its labour needs,” Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada said in the news release announcing the report. “Managing recruitment, training, and worker mobility will be critical to meeting BC’s anticipated construction needs over the next 10 years.”
The 10-year estimate predicts that B.C.’s construction industry will need to recruit 25,700 workers from other industries outside the province to meet demand in 2028. The forecasted shortfall has increased from last year’s estimate because the number of workers expected to retire in the 10-year period is higher, and there were new projects, such as YVR expansion, included in this year’s estimate.
The stacking of several major projects, such as the LNG Canada facility, ongoing work at BC Hydro’s Site C project, the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline, Phase 4 of the Highway 1 improvements, and several other major public infrastructure projects will combine to increase employment demand in the non-residential sector by 12,900 workers by 2021. When coupled with an increase in demand for an additional 1,700 residential construction workers, the province will need to recruit a further 14,600 workers during this period.
Similar strong demand exists In the Lower Mainland, and will be driven by high levels of both non-residential and residential construction. Several diverse and large non-residential construction projects slated to proceed over the next several years include the Pattullo Bridge replacement, the Vancouver airport expansion, the Millennium Line and Surrey light rail transit systems, St. Paul’s Hospital, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority container expansion, and various pipeline projects.
While continuing demand is driving the labour narrative in the province’s construction and maintenance industry, retirements from the industry are also on the rise. About 44,200 workers are expected to retire from the provincial labour force over the next 10 years, with 24,600 of those from the Lower Mainland. Based on historical trends, the industry can expect to draw an estimated 36,500 first-time new entrants aged 30 and younger into the provincial labour force, including 21,000 from the Lower Mainland.
The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. Over the past five years, more than 52,000 apprentices registered in the province’s 15 largest construction programs, with 22,580 completions registered during that period. An ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will be necessary to ensure there are sufficient numbers of qualified tradespeople to sustain a skilled workforce over the long term.
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 Canadians, and new Canadians.
In 2018, women employed in B.C. represented 48 per cent of the province’s total labour force. In the province’s construction and maintenance industry, however, women represented just 12 per cent of the industry’s labour force and accounted for only 3.8 per cent of workers employed in direct on-site project construction. Similarly, Indigenous Canadians also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for little more than 5.7 per cent of the total. Increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to helping the industry address its future labour force needs.
British Columbia’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 37,000 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important future source of potential workers for the province’s construction and maintenance industry.
BuildForce Canada is a national industry-led organization that represents all sectors of Canada’s construction industry. Its mandate is to provide accurate and timely labour market data and analysis, as well as programs and initiatives to help manage labour force requirements and build the capacity and the capability of Canada’s construction and maintenance industry. Visit www.constructionforecasts.ca.