Construction requirements across Canada are expected to rebound in 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and rise through the coming decade—albeit at more muted levels than in the past 10 years.
The strength and pace of recovery, however, will vary among provinces, and will depend significantly on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the recovery in consumer and business confidence, the global demand for Canadian exports, and the lifting of restrictions on international travel. This is according to the latest labour market forecast released by BuildForce Canada.
BuildForce Canada’s 2021-2030 “Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward” national report forecasts construction employment to rise by 64,900 workers over the next decade. This represents an increase of six per cent over 2020 workforce levels. While the outlook forecasts much of that growth to take place through 2025, by the end of the decade, the respective provincial industries will face the need to replace approximately 259,000 workers, or about 22 per cent of the current labour force, due to retirement.
“Canada’s construction outlook is strong for 2021 and well into the middle portion of the decade thanks to gains in the residential and non-residential sectors,” said Bill Ferreira, BuildForce Canada executive director. “And while we forecast growth to slow over the later years of our forecast period, we nonetheless expect the industry will be challenged to recruit more than 309,000 new workers to replace retirees and keep pace with demand.”
BuildForce Canada anticipates the non-residential sector will lead industry growth between 2021 and 2023, driven by a large list of public transit, health care, education, roadwork, and other civil infrastructure projects. Overall, non-residential employment is projected to increase by more than 39,800 workers between 2021 and 2025, and another 5000 to 2030. The sector is expected to end the decade up 44,800 workers (eight per cent) compared to 2020.
After a mixed year in 2020, the residential sector is expected to see strong growth post-2021. Low lending rates and renewed immigration levels are expected to drive a moderate up-cycle in new-home construction to 2024, while renovation work is projected to grow steadily. As a result, total residential employment is expected to peak in 2024 before ending the decade with an increase of nearly 20,100 workers (four per cent) compared to 2020 levels.
“The unevenness with which provinces and even regions within those provinces will experience construction growth over the forecast period suggests that intra- and interprovincial mobility, as well as drawing workers from other industries, will be key to meeting construction demands,” said Ferreira.
The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. As such, replacing retiring workers typically requires several years of pre-planning to avoid the creation of skills gaps. By 2030, overall hiring requirements in the industry are expected to exceed 309,000 (due to the retirement of some 259,100 workers) and growth in worker demand of 49,900.
Based on historical trends, Canada’s construction industry is expected to draw an estimated 228,100 first-time new entrants aged 30 and younger from the local population, leaving the industry with a possible retirement-recruitment gap of 31,000 workers. When coupled with demand growth, the industry may be short as many as 81,000 workers by 2030.