COVID-19 pandemic hits Newfoundland and Labrador hard with project delays and cancellations; workforce adjustment continues to 2030


The COVID-19 pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador disproportionately hard in 2020. Instability in the oil and gas markets caused many existing and proposed projects to be cancelled or delayed, dampening current and future construction employment in the province. Labour market forecast data released today by BuildForce Canada suggests that the province’s construction and maintenance industry will continue contracting through 2030; a trend that commenced prior to the pandemic with the completion of several large-scale industrial projects and was further amplified by the events of the past year.

BuildForce Canada’s 2021–2030 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for the province forecasts that overall construction employment in the industry will decline by a little over 1,000 workers over the decade. Pronounced declines in the non-residential sector will be offset slightly by a rise in residential construction employment. These workforce adjustments are expected to take place over the next four years between 2021 and 2025, and will be followed by a period of relative stability.

“The increased uncertainty of global oil prices, which was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in the early spring of 2020, caused construction employment in Newfoundland and Labrador to drop significantly in 2020,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “The resulting reductions in business investment, exports, and consumer spending reverberated across all sectors of construction.”

Between 2021 and 2030, as many as 4,600 workers are anticipated to retire from the province’s overall construction labour force. That figure runs well ahead of the estimated 2,550 first-time new entrants aged 30 and younger from the local population who are anticipated to join the labour force. The fact that Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the oldest population demographics in Canada, coupled with the conclusion, delay, or cancellation of many long-term resource development projects, may make attracting these younger workers to the construction industry a formidable task.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. New registrations in the 13 largest construction trade programs in the province have fallen at an average rate of 14% per year, resulting in a dramatic decline in the number of newly certified journeypersons in the province. In 2019, the number of certified workers completing their program was less than half compared to peak levels reported in 2015.

Compounding matters significantly is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public-health measures in the province created substantial interruptions to apprenticeship training and certification in 2020.

Taking into account current apprenticeship completion trends and anticipated retirement levels throughout the decade, several trades were identified as potentially at risk of undertraining the number of new journeypersons required by 2030. Trades in this group include heavy equipment operators, industrial mechanics (millwrights), plumbers, steamfitters/pipefitters, and welders. 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 and diverse 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 2020, there were approximately 1,100 women employed in Newfoundland and Labrador’s construction industry, of which 55% worked directly on construction projects. Of the 12,900 tradespeople employed in the industry, women made up only 5% of the total. Indigenous people accounted for approximately 5% of the total labour force in Atlantic Canada, which is slightly lower than their 8% share in the province’s construction labour force. With about 76% of the industry’s Indigenous workers active in on-site construction, there could be further scope to increase the participation of Indigenous people in the construction trades. Increasing the participation rate of women and Indigenous people 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 1,560 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important future source of potential workers for the province’s construction and maintenance industry. With provincial demographics pointing to declines in the number of younger workers available to enter the labour force, immigration will play an increasingly important role in the development of the province’s future labour force. Currently, new Canadians make up just about 1% of the province’s construction workforce. Increasing the participation of new Canadians in the industry will be important to ensure the construction labour force remains adequate to the needs of the economy.

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 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. 2220.

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:

Terry French
President
Construction Labour Relations Association – NL
709-691-0550

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