Nova Scotia construction labour market to experience a strong 2020, followed by modest long-term growth



Ottawa — Nova Scotia’s construction labour requirements are expected to increase in 2020 and 2021, driven by intensifying road, highway, and bridge works, the Sable gas plant decommissioning project, and a significant increase in investment in the health services sector, according to the labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

BuildForce Canada’s 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial report forecasts that stable levels of employment are expected to continue to 2029, sustained by rising construction of industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) buildings, and residential and non-residential maintenance demands.

“Stable levels of employment are expected over the decade, even as moderate employment declines follow the completion of several ongoing major projects,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “Total construction employment is projected to add 1,500 workers, an increase of 6% between 2020 and 2021, before receding over the latter half of our scenario period. Surging retirements and a smaller pool of younger workers available to enter the industry will require ongoing careful management to avoid the emergence of skills shortages over the next decade.”

In the non-residential sector, increased investment in health care projects, rising levels of commercial building construction, road, highway, and bridge works, and the ongoing decommissioning of the Sable and Deep Panuke gas projects are driving double-digit demand growth in 2020. Although institutional requirements are expected to recede from peak levels by 2022, demands related to the development of the Queen Elizabeth II hospital project support employment through to 2025, though at slightly lower levels. Industrial and commercial building construction is expected to strengthen over the second half of the scenario period, supported by stronger economic growth stemming from the start of the second phase of the federal (Canadian Surface Combatant) shipbuilding program.

Although no final investment decision has yet been announced, the start of a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project could significantly alter the labour market outlook for Nova Scotia.

Non-residential employment totals will range moderately higher by 2029, with a larger portion of the labour force engaged in maintenance and ICI building construction.

In the residential sector, age demographics that are skewing older and slowing population growth are projected to contribute to a downward trend in the construction of new homes after 2020. Employment requirements for new-home construction are expected to decline by 1,000 workers (-14%) to 2029, but those losses should be offset by rising renovation and maintenance work, which accounted for 60% of residential employment in 2019. This work is expected to add close to 1,400 workers by 2029.

Over the next 10 years, Nova Scotia’s construction industry will face the challenge of the retirement of more than 8,300 workers, or 27% of the province’s 2019 labour force. Based on historical trends, however, the province’s construction industry is expected to draw in only an estimated 5,700 first-time new entrants aged 30 and younger from the local population over the same period.

“As the Nova Scotia population ages, competition for younger workers will increase,” says Ferreira. “It’s important for the construction and maintenance industry to reach out to younger people now and position construction as a career of choice.”

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. More than 6,900 apprentices registered in Nova Scotia’s 18 largest construction programs between 2013 and 2019, with 3,200 completions reported during that period. Based on current apprenticeship registration and completion trends, several trades may be at risk of not keeping pace with retirement levels. That could lead to a potential undersupply of certified journeypersons in some trades by 2029. Bricklayers, carpenters, gasfitters, heavy-duty equipment technicians, industrial electricians, and mobile crane operators may be at higher risk. An ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will remain necessary to avoid potential future skills shortages in the industry.

Building a sustainable labour force will also 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, Nova Scotia’s construction industry employed 3,600 women, of which 25% worked directly on construction projects. Of the 27,100 tradespeople employed in the industry, women made up only 3.5% of the total on-site workforce. Similarly, Indigenous people also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for little more than 5% of the total, of which about 81% 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.

Currently, new Canadians comprise approximately 3.5% of Nova Scotia’s construction workforce. Over the coming decade, the province is expected to welcome an average of 6,800 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important future source of potential workers for the province’s construction and maintenance industry.

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.

This report was produced with the support and input of a variety of provincial construction and maintenance industry stakeholders. For local industry reaction to this latest BuildForce Canada report, please contact:

Trent Soholt,
Executive Director
Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council
902-832-4761

Duncan Williams
President and CEO
Construction Association of Nova Scotia
902-468-2267

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