Alberta: Employment stability returns, growth to follow


Ottawa – Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting investment declines in the oil and gas sector, Alberta’s economy is poised to stage a modest comeback in 2021, and a more material expansion after 2023.

The latest labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada projects that employment in the province’s construction and maintenance sector will be sustained in the immediate term by public-sector capital spending before growing moderately after 2023 on the strength of anticipated investments in oil and gas projects, as well as an up-cycle in new residential construction.

BuildForce Canada’s 2021–2030 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for Alberta forecasts overall industry employment requirements to increase by more than 19,000 workers (+11%) by 2030 compared to 2020.

“Alberta has weathered some very challenging economic times over the last few years,” says BuildForce Canada Executive Director Bill Ferreira. “The impact of COVID-19 has certainly increased overall uncertainty, and while it may be cold comfort to those impacted, conditions are expected to improve over the next few years.”

The challenge for Alberta’s industry over the forecast period will be accommodating fluctuations in labour force demand. Although the average annual non-residential requirements are relatively stable over the near term, seasonal fluctuations created by heavy-industrial maintenance requirements could create periodic recruitment challenges among those trades with specialized skills and experience.

BuildForce Canada estimates that as many as 40,400 workers – approximately 21% of the current labour force – will retire by 2030. Based on historical trends, Alberta’s construction industry is expected to draw an estimated 38,460 first-time new entrants under the age of 30 from the local population over the next decade. As a result, the province could experience a shortfall of nearly 2,000 workers across the scenario period. When added to the anticipated rise in demand over the decade, the province could be short as many as 17,345 workers by 2030. This trend will require industry to think innovatively about attracting, training, and retaining qualified workers from other industries, other provinces, and as necessary, from other countries through permanent immigration.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. New registrations in Alberta’s 20 largest construction trade programs peaked in 2014 before seeing significant declines in 2015 (-6,000) and again in 2019, when they finished the year at fewer than 8,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to further reduce registration levels in 2020. Limited data collected to date suggests 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.

Based on projected new registrations and completion trends, most of Alberta’s trades are expected to meet or exceed the number of new certified journeypersons required by 2030. However, the Boilermaker, Carpenter, Glazier, Insulator, Plumber, and Welder trades were identified as at risk of being undersupplied. An ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will remain necessary to avoid potential future skills shortages.

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 36,600 women employed in Alberta’s construction industry, of which 31% worked directly on construction projects. Of the 172,400 tradespeople employed in the industry, women made up only 7% of the total.

Alberta has done well at attracting Indigenous people into the construction industry. Approximately 6.4% of the province’s construction labour force is made up of Indigenous people – compared with about 5% of the province’s overall working-age population. Of those in the construction and maintenance industry, 80% work directly on construction projects. Given the predisposition of Indigenous workers to consider careers in construction, there may be scope to further increase the recruitment of Indigenous people into the industry.

Alberta’s construction industry may also leverage new Canadians over the coming decade to meet anticipated labour market requirements. The province is expected to welcome an average of more than 42,000 new international migrants each year between 2021 and 2030. This will make new Canadians a growing segment of the overall labour force.

Alberta’s construction labour force is comprised of approximately 17% new Canadians, which is lower than the overall share of new Canadians in the provincial labour force (23%).

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

Ron Glen
CEO
Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association
(780) 436-9860 ext. 225

Terry Parker
Executive Director
Building Trades of Alberta
(780) 421-9400 ext. 112

Dennis Perrin
Prairies Director
CLAC
587-785-1836

Ken Gibson
President
Alberta Construction Association
780-233-6738

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