Saskatchewan’s construction labour market poised to rebound


Ottawa – Saskatchewan’s construction and maintenance industry is poised to see a pronounced recovery in 2021 thanks to increases in new-housing construction and a robust public-sector capital spending plan, according to labour market data released today by BuildForce Canada.

After industry employment declined in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – with the commercial and industrial building, and engineering sectors most affected – the provincial labour market is expected to regain strength in 2021. BuildForce Canada’s 2021–2030 Construction Maintenance Looking Forward report for Saskatchewan projects that increased investment in the province’s education, health care, utility, and mining sectors are projected to boost growth across most construction segments to a peak in 2023.

“The anticipated recovery follows several years of steady declines in Saskatchewan’s construction market and continued weaker conditions in 2020 that contributed to elevated rates of unemployment,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “Although the moderate pace of projected growth suggests that demands are likely to be met locally, challenges may arise for key trades during peak periods. The simultaneous rise in residential and non-residential demands may also limit the supply of workers in those trades that cross over between both sectors.”

Total construction employment is expected to rise by close to 3,700 workers (+10%) through 2023, led by strong gains in industrial, engineering, and new-housing construction, before receding in line with several major projects winding down in 2024 and 2025. Employment is expected to end the scenario period modestly higher compared to the 2020 workforce, with the residential and ICI (industrial, commercial, institutional) building construction sectors recording the largest gains.

Although overall employment is expected to see little change over the next 10 years, the construction and maintenance industry must keep a steady focus on hiring, training, and retaining workers. BuildForce Canada expects that more than 8,700 workers – or nearly 21% of the current labour force – will retire by 2030. At the same time, the industry is expected to attract an estimated 8,800 new workers under the age of 30 from the local population.

“Saskatchewan has been fortunate to benefit from a younger age demographic than most provinces, but its non-residential workforce in particular has lost workers to other provinces following several years of declining construction activity and employment,” says Ferreira. “Meeting replacement demands will require proactive planning solutions and continued focus on attracting, training, and retaining qualified workers.”

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. New registrations in the province’s top 16 trade programs have suffered over the past decade. Enrolments fell by 54% between 2012 and 2019, and reached a new low of under 1,000 in 2019.

Based on the current pace of new registrations, several trades could be potentially at risk of not keeping pace with retirement levels. This suggests that a possible undersupply of new journeypersons could exist by 2030. Trades within this group include Boilermaker, Boom Truck, Carpenter, Insulator, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic, Scaffolder, Sheet Metal Worker, Steamfitter/Pipefitter, and Welder. An ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will remain necessary to avoid potential future skills shortages in the industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly complicated apprentice registration and completion rates in Saskatchewan. Limited data collected to date suggest that the pandemic has imposed significant obstacles to the in-school delivery of training, testing, and certification. These impacts are likely to reduce the near-term numbers of new certified workers.

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 5,800 women employed in Saskatchewan’s construction industry, of which nearly 38% worked directly on construction projects. Of the 36,600 workers employed in on-site professions, women made up only 6% of the total.

The Indigenous population is another underrepresented group that presents recruitment opportunities for Saskatchewan’s construction industry. In 2020, Indigenous people accounted for approximately 11% of Saskatchewan’s total working-age population, and about 12% of its construction labour force. Of those employed in the industry, 85% work directly on construction projects. Given the generally greater predisposition of Indigenous workers to consider careers in construction, there may be scope to further increase the recruitment of Indigenous people into the industry.

Saskatchewan’s construction industry may also leverage new Canadians (immigrants) over the coming decade to meet labour requirements. The province is expected to welcome an average of about 5,000 new international migrants each year between 2021 and 2030. This will make the immigrant population a key source of future labour force growth.

Saskatchewan’s construction labour force is currently made up of approximately 8% new Canadians, compared with 12% across the province’s entire labour force.

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:

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

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

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

Dennis Perrin
Prairies Director
CLAC
(587) 785-1836

Karen Low
President of Merit Canada
Merit Saskatchewan
(306) 961-7346

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