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Labour mobility necessary to meet construction needs

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by Richard Gilbert last update:Oct 10, 2014

Canadian construction firms will need to attract skilled workers from across the nation and from other countries, in order to match specific trades with regional market demand and respond to changes in the economic and demographic environment.

“As major projects gear up and wind down, building a new and mobile workforce is an industry priority,” said Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada.

“This will help fill the skills gap, as up to one-quarter of the construction workforce retires over the next decade.”

BuildForce released a summary of its Canadian labour market forecast (2014-2023) on Feb. 18.

The report estimates that labour replacement demand in Canada, due to retirement, will reach 235,000 between 2014 and 2023.

During the same period, about 64,000 workers will be needed to fill new jobs stimulated by economic growth.

This means as many as 300,000 new workers will be needed in Canada to replace retirees and meet the demand for the construction of new projects over the next 10 years.

First-time entrants from the population aged 30 and younger are estimated to be about 167,000 workers, which is not sufficient to meet demand requirements.

As a result 132,000 new workers will have to be attracted from other Canadian industries or other countries.

“Meeting the demand for skilled labour takes long-range planning and investment,” said Sparks.

“The focus in every region should be on a collective effort to draw youth, women, Aboriginal people and newcomers to construction careers and build the ranks of future specialists, foremen and supervisors.”

For this reason, labour mobility will become critical to meeting the construction industries needs in Canada over the next five years and longer, with specialized skills and experience in short supply in some regions.

These demands differ across each province and trade.

The long-term forecast highlights three distinct labour cycles across the following regions and sectors.

The first cycle consists of resource projects in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northern Ontario that are driving an increase in labour requirements that began in 2011.

This surge in requirements is expected to continue to 2014 or 2015.

Many of these projects are near or have passed their peak employment levels.

A second cycle of labour requirements is concentrated in major resource projects in Alberta and British Columbia.

Oilsands and supporting infrastructure projects that started in 2011 and 2012 are reaching peak labour requirements in the 2013–2014 period.

However, during 2013 a cross-Canada pipeline and several new large oilsands mining projects were announced.

As a result, a further round of oilsands expansion is expected to start in 2016, which will expand capacity by 50 per cent, when these projects begin production after 2019.

At the same time, a series of Liquefied Natural Gas plants planned for B.C. have been announced with related pipelines and roads.

Some of this work coincides with mining and utilities projects in Northern B.C., which will create another surge in labour requirements.

A third cycle of non-residential building is expected to ramp up in Ontario from 2015 to 2020, which will occur mostly in the Greater Toronto Area.

This growth will include large investments to refurbish nuclear power facilities and expand transit systems.

These demands will cause key labour markets to increase farther out in the forecast period, with a peak in 2018.

The report concludes that these three cycles of non-residential construction will create a distinct profile, with the resource work in Western Canada steadily building to a peak in 2018 and then the Ontario projects filling in to sustain and then push employment to an even higher peak.

According to the report, most construction markets will expand between 2014–2023.

Big projects will drive more volatile activity in industrial and utility construction.

Institutional and commercial sectors will experience steady year-by-year growth until 2019, after which employment plateaus in most provinces.

The following trades find relatively more work in commercial, institutional and government projects with a corresponding steady rise in employment:

  • carpenters
  • commercial installers
  • electricians
  • painters and decorators
  • plasterers and drywall installers
  • plumbers
  • refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics
  • sheet metal workers
  • tilesetters

last update:Oct 10, 2014

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