Canada’s construction industry shed a massive number of jobs in the early days of COVID-19, but many workers have since been rehired, and reports indicate the sector will face a shortfall of trades in coming years.
While the pandemic will eventually recede, the reports show that the construction industry workforce will continue to age. To make matters worse, the traditional influx of immigrants to Canada who often end up filling jobs in the skilled trades will continue to decline, making recruitment increasingly difficult.
Approximately 257,000 workers are expected to retire by 2029. Accounting for modest growth and retirements of older trades, the industry would have to recruit about 310,000 workers, according to separate reports by BuildForce Canada, which provides labour market information to employers.
Shortfall of Workers
An estimated 228,000 workers could be recruited and trained domestically from the pool of youth expected to enter the workforce over the coming decade. Even so, the industry will be lacking nearly 82,000 workers by 2029.
“Undertraining now, especially in key skilled trades, will make reaching the estimates for new entrants more challenging, thereby exacerbating skilled-labour shortages already present in the industry,” states one of the reports, titled Construction and Maintenance: Looking Beyond COVID-19.
Though the near-term outlook may have weakened somewhat compared to six months ago, demand for skilled labour remains strong, particularly in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Since roughly one in five workers is expected to retire by 2029, the opportunities to start a meaningful career in the industry have never been greater, the report states.
COVID-19 Took a Toll
Figures show that the construction sector, like many others, was battered by the impacts of COVID-19 and shed about 266,100 jobs at the peak of imposed closures and social distancing measures. However, the industry soon adapted, workers returned to job sites, and employment improved.
The impact the COVID-19 disruption will have on recruitment, training and uptake of apprenticeship remains a long-term concern. Younger workers, including apprentices, tend to be most affected during slowdowns, and the elevated rates of unemployment and economic uncertainty will likely result in a pullback in the number of new apprentices hired by employers in 2020—just as apprenticeship numbers were starting to recover following the collapse of resource expansion.
“Although, predictably, uncertainty about the investment outlook is now viewed as the dominant threat to the industry, shortages of skills and labour continue to be a concern,” the report states. “A key question is, will workers be available to return as demands continue to rise?”
The report concludes that while construction demand remains more constrained than last year, labour market challenges and skilled trades shortages are likely to resurface as activity recovers.
“Even as concerns over COVID-19 recede, the industry must continue to commit to broader recruitment, training, and apprenticeships—especially in key skilled trades—to meet the labour demands of tomorrow.”
How to Find Workers
A second report by BuildForce, titled Immigration Trends in the Canadian Construction Sector, notes that Canada will have to look at recruiting workers from other industries, from groups traditionally underrepresented in the industry, or through immigration.
“As Canada looks more and more to immigrants to fill its labour shortage, sectors that are aligned with the skills and qualifications of those arriving in Canada will be clear winners. Unfortunately, the construction industry is currently on the losing side of this battle, with the number of newcomers entering the sector having been in decline for several decades, particularly in the skilled trades.”
The report states that the construction industry is no longer attracting its share of newcomers – and the situation could cause serious problems in the future if it isn’t rectified.
Traditionally, the construction industry has depended heavily on immigrants from Europe. However, attracting European immigrants is likely to become increasingly difficult, as many of these countries are looking to attract immigrant workers themselves to fill their own labour shortages.
Seeking Alternative Sources
The report suggests Canada seek alternative sources of immigrant labour to fill its demand. It also means the construction industry will need to look beyond existing immigration programs to attract the needed trades if it wishes to compete with other sectors’ recruitment efforts.
Recent data shows that fewer immigrants with skilled trades qualifications are already entering Canada. Therefore, according to the report, the country will have to find alternative jurisdictions from which to recruit potential immigrants to meet the needs of Canada’s construction labour force.
By working with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, the industry could identify ways to better promote career opportunities, especially in countries where emigration interest is high, the report reads. With the right outreach, construction should be able to attract skilled immigrants.
“If we want to ensure a strong and healthy construction industry in the future, the time to make these changes is now,” states the report. “With almost a quarter of the current construction labour force expected to retire by 2029, the industry’s need for workers will only become more pressing with each passing year. For Canada and its construction industry, there is quite simply no time to waste.”