Saskatchewan construction labour force: long-term modest growth as residential, non-residential markets diverge


Ottawa – Labour force demand in Saskatchewan’s construction and maintenance industry should grow modestly by 2029, with the residential sector picking up the pace as non-residential projects are completed, according to the labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

Beginning in 2020, Saskatchewan’s residential and non-residential markets are expected to diverge, with a recovery in new residential housing construction offsetting declines in the non-residential sector. BuildForce Canada’s 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial report forecasts that the pace of overall employment declines is expected to stabilize in 2020–2021, bolstered by stronger exports that support moderate economic growth, and an anticipated recovery in the construction of new housing and industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) buildings.

“We expect a period of moderate growth to follow, with new resource-sector investments anticipated after 2021,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “That demand is expected alongside a continued recovery in new-housing construction driven by stronger population growth.”

Overall, construction employment is expected to grow modestly by the end of the 2020–2029 scenario period, with larger gains concentrated in residential and ICI building construction.

In the non-residential sector, the completion of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline and a decline in highway and bridge work should contribute to a modest decline in employment between 2020 and 2021. Thereafter, non-residential requirements are expected to rise by 2,400 workers (+8.6%) between 2022 and 2024, driven in part by the anticipated start of proposed major potash mine expansion and gas plant projects.

“As the decade progresses, however, non-residential employment demands will increasingly be driven by the construction of ICI buildings and maintenance work as major engineering project construction declines from peak levels,” says Ferreira.

The non-residential labour force finishes the scenario period with an additional 600 workers compared to 2019.

In the residential sector, modest gains in renovation and maintenance activity, alongside increased new-home construction, are expected to grow the residential labour force by an estimated 2,300 workers over the decade. New-housing starts are expected to recover from a record low in 2019 to 5,800 units by 2029, with growth projected to accelerate after 2021 driven by stronger overall economic growth and rising household formations.

The anticipated retirement of just over 9,100 workers dominates hiring requirements over the next decade. The availability of 9,500 new-entrant workers aged 30 or younger is projected locally. However, Saskatchewan’s ability to meet future hiring requirements of nearly 11,500 workers from the local population is dependent on limiting the outflow of skilled workers during periods of weaker growth.

“Across Canada, other provinces will be demanding the trade skills that Saskatchewan workers can supply,” says Ferreira. “The industry should be mindful about keeping the province’s workers engaged locally and ensuring that they can make the transition between non-residential and residential markets.”

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. More than 10,400 apprentices registered in the 16 largest construction trade programs in Saskatchewan between 2013 and 2019, with nearly 7,400 completions reported during this period. Based on current apprenticeship completion trends, several trades may be at risk of not keeping pace with retirement levels that could potentially lead to an undersupply of journeypersons in some trades by 2029. Boilermakers, carpenters, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, scaffolders, sheet metal workers, and welders 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, approximately 6,300 women were employed in Saskatchewan’s construction industry. Of the total, nearly 37% worked directly on construction projects. When measured as a percentage of the overall 39,800 tradespeople employed in the industry, women accounted for only 5.7% of on-site employment.

New Canadians are also underrepresented in the province’s labour force, accounting for little more than 8% of the province’s construction workforce. Between 2020 and 2029, the province is expected to welcome more than 132,000 newcomers, making the immigrant population a key driver of labour force growth. Increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to help the industry address future labour force needs.

Saskatchewan is also home to one of the largest percentages of Indigenous construction workers in Canada, second only to Manitoba. Approximately 12% of the province’s construction labour force is made up of Indigenous people, with about 85% working directly on construction projects. Meeting future labour market needs may also require Saskatchewan’s construction industry to increase its recruitment of Indigenous workers.

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:

Chris Guerette
CEO
Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Saskatchewan (Saskatoon)
(306) 292-8619

Dennis Perrin
Prairies Director
CLAC
587-785-1836

Warren Douglas
Executive Director
Construction Labour Relations Association – Saskatchewan
306-352-7909

Darren Swanson
Vice-Chair President of Merit Canada
Merit Canada
(306) 961-4118

Paul de Jong
President
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
(403) 620-3781

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