Relative stability following further employment declines anticipated for Newfoundland and Labrador’s construction industry


Ottawa – Following completions of the Lower Churchill hydro development and the West White Rose offshore platform, construction employment in Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to resume a downward trend in 2020 and 2021. A period of relative stability is expected to follow, supported by the anticipated start of the Bay du Nord offshore development project, increased institutional investment, and a modest recovery in new-housing construction, according to the labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

BuildForce Canada’s 2019–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial report forecasts that with current levels of construction demand and a shrinking population, the province’s construction labour force will return to levels more consistent with the pre-peak period of the late 2000s.

Under the current outlook scenario, construction employment is projected to decline by 3,200 workers over the coming decade, with the bulk of the adjustment expected to occur over the next few years.

“The labour force continues to adjust to pre-peak employment levels,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “As a consequence, some displaced workers may turn to out-of-province employment or employment in other industries over the next 10 years. Despite the ongoing adjustment, record levels of retirements over the decade could lead to periods of labour force tightness and future skills shortages if recruitment and training efforts are neglected.”

The commencement of work on the West White Rose platform and the Voisey’s Bay underground mine helped moderate employment declines in 2018 and contributed to a small employment increase in 2019. With work completed at the Tacora Resources Wabush mine, the winding down of activity at the Lower Churchill Muskrat Falls generating station project, and the expected completion of the West White Rose project by 2021, non-residential construction employment is expected to decline slightly in 2020 and again in 2021.

The anticipated start of the Bay du Nord deepwater oil development project in 2022 should offset employment declines related to the completion of the Voisey’s Bay project, but overall net gains in employment may be limited by lower demand levels for the construction of industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) buildings, due to population declines.

In the absence of any new major construction projects following Bay du Nord, non-residential construction employment is expected to return to the pre-expansion levels of the late 2000s. Across the scenario period to 2029, non-residential employment is estimated to decline by close to 3,000 workers (-22%) as compared to 2019.

In the residential sector, an anticipated improvement in economic conditions is expected to help sustain stable renovation investment across the scenario period. While housing starts have been in decline for the past few years, the number of household formations is expected to begin rising by 2022, supporting a modest recovery in housing starts by 2026. Over the outlook period, total residential employment is expected to decrease further, but only marginally.
Between 2020 and 2029, an estimated 5,900 workers are anticipated to retire, yet the industry is expected to draw only 3,400 first-time entrants aged 30 and younger into the labour force from the local population. With one of the oldest population demographics in Canada, competition for these younger workers in the province is increasing.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. Between 2013 and 2019, nearly 5,120 apprentices registered in the 13 largest construction trade programs, with 3,110 completions reported during this period. To help the construction industry better measure the retention of its skilled workers, BuildForce Canada now tracks the number of provincial tradespeople in possession of certificates of qualification. Taking into account current apprenticeship completion trends and anticipated retirement levels throughout the decade, several trades may see reductions in the number of certified journeypersons. Heavy-duty equipment technicians, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, and steamfitters/pipefitters may be at higher risk. 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 require the construction and maintenance industry to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians.

In 2019, approximately 1,600 women were employed in Newfoundland and Labrador’s construction industry. Of the 17,700 tradespeople employed in the industry, women made up only 4.6%.  Similarly, Indigenous people also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for little more than 8% of the total, of which about 76% work directly on construction projects. Increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to help the industry address its future labour force needs.

Over the coming decade, Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to welcome an average of approximately 1,700 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important future source of potential workers for the province’s construction and maintenance industry. Currently, new Canadians make up just about 1% of the province’s construction workforce.

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.

For further information, contact Bill Ferreira, Executive Director, BuildForce Canada, at ferreira@buildforce.ca or 613-569-5552 ext. 222.

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.