Record high employment levels predicted for construction

Priority on recruiting, training, managing trade mobility: Report

Construction employment will remain at all-time record high levels in Canada for the next decade or so, according to a forecast of labour supply and demand published by the Construction Sector Council (CSC).

Canada will need an estimated 319,000 new construction workers from 2012 to 2020 to keep pace with increased construction demand and to compensate for the rising number of expected retirements, said the report, Construction Looking Forward: 2012-2020 Key Highlights.

"As the industry enters this second decade of strong growth, stakeholders are drawing on past experience to find ways to meet future demand," said CSC business co-chair Tim Flood, president of John Flood and Sons. "Recruiting for the projects is the first priority but there is a second, critical challenge related to training and retaining workers to meet current needs as well as long-term needs."

The industry is working to ensure investments in apprenticeships and other types of training and support systems keep pace with demand, he said.

The national construction labour force is expected to rise by 100,000 workers between 2012 and 2020 to meet demand associated with increased construction activity, said the report. Much of the expansion will be driven by major projects in non-residential construction and, more specifically, by large industrial and engineering projects.

With the exception of a few provinces, residential construction markets continue to recover at a slower pace compared to previous peak levels of activity and employment.

An added challenge is the aging workforce and accelerating loss of the baby boomer generation due to retirement, which means the construction industry will need to replace more than 20 per cent of its current workforce over the next decade, said the CSC.

"Industry promotion is a high priority as we will need to tap into all potential sources of labour supply to meet growing needs. Increased efforts will aim at attracting youth, women, Aboriginal people, other industries and immigrants," said Flood.

Another major challenge for HR managers will be tracking the mobility of the key non-residential trades across regions and potentially from abroad, according to CSC labour co-chair Robert Blakely, director of Canadian affairs for the Building & Construction Trades Department AFL-CIO.

This year's forecast highlights a new dimension in the national competition for skilled workers that focuses on specialized labour markets created by an increase in resource projects such as mining, oil and gas, pipelines, electrical generation and transmission.

"Many of these projects are in remote, northern locations... but the scale of this work generates significant demand requirements across many provinces," said Blakely.

Mapping the proposed startup of large major projects in some regions and the winding down of projects in others will be critical for assessing the potential for inter-provincial mobility to meet peak demand requirements. Key challenges will be identifying the availability of workers, the portability of skills and their willingness to work in remote areas, said the CSC.

Regionally, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador report very strong employment growth and, at peak times, major resource projects exhaust the available workforce for some skilled trades and occupations in these provinces. Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia report more moderate year-to-year changes in total construction employment.

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