Short-term growth intensifies Nova Scotia’s labour challenges, but pressures ease after 2024


Nova Scotia’s construction market is in the midst of a period of sustained growth propelled by major public-sector investments and rising demands for new residential construction. These factors will combine to bring sectoral employment to a peak in 2023, before receding sightly through 2027.

BuildForce Canada published its 2022–2027 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for the province today. The scenario focuses on a six-year horizon for provincial labour-market data as opposed to the 10 years studied in previous reports. The shortened forecast period allows the reports to focus more clearly on short- and long-term demand and supply pressures impacting the province’s construction sector.

BuildForce Canada anticipates overall construction employment in Nova Scotia to rise by 1,900 workers (7%) to a peak in 2023 before receding, leaving employment higher by 250 workers by 2027.

“Nova Scotia’s economy experienced a more moderate decline in real GDP in 2020 compared to other provinces, and we estimate that growth will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2022, driven by increased exports and strong residential, non-residential, and government capital expenditures to 2024,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “Our longer-term outlook sees non-residential demand ease as major projects wind down, while activity in the residential sector shifts from housing starts to renovation work.”

A significant challenge facing Nova Scotia’s construction industry is the need to address imminent labour force demands. Many large projects that are underway, or will soon be, will require large numbers of skilled and experienced tradespersons, as opposed to newer, less experienced workers. While provincial directives have helped to recruit young workers into construction throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the province has seen a decline in the participation of older workers and declines in the availability of skilled workers, with unemployment rates falling to historic lows.

Nova Scotia is expected to lose as many as 5,200 workers (16% of its 2021 workforce) to retirement between 2022 and 2027. Coupled with the anticipated rise in employment demands, the industry will need to recruit an estimated 6,200 additional workers by 2027. Over the same period, it is expected to recruit a potential 3,800 new workers aged 30 or younger from the local population, leaving a gap of 2,500 workers that will need to be recruited and retained from other sectors, from non-traditional employment sources, or from outside of the province.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship registrations in Nova Scotia’s 18 largest trade programs reached a peak of 1,280 in 2015 and have remained around 900 per year since. Based on the latest Registered Apprentice Information System data, new registrations dropped by 60% in 2020, as the pandemic created significant obstacles to the delivery of in-school training, testing, and certification.

At the current pace of new apprenticeship registrations and completions, several trades could be at risk of undersupplying the number of new journeypersons required by 2027. These trades include Bricklayer, Carpenter, Heavy-Duty Equipment Technician, Industrial Electrician, Industrial Mechanic (Millwright), Gasfitter, Mobile Crane Operator, Roofer, Steamfitter/Pipefitter, and Welder.

The construction industry remains focused on building a more diverse and inclusive labour force. To that end, efforts are ongoing to enhance the recruitment of individuals from groups traditionally underrepresented in the province’s construction labour force, such as women, Indigenous people, and newcomers to Canada.

In 2021, Nova Scotia’s construction industry employed approximately 3,880 women; 230 more than in 2020. Of them, 26% worked on site, directly on construction projects. Women made up just 4% of the 28,800 tradespeople employed in the province’s construction industry.

The Indigenous population is another underrepresented group that represents potential recruitment opportunities for Nova Scotia’s construction industry. In 2021, approximately 63,700 Indigenous people were employed in Canada’s construction sector, or 9% of all Indigenous people in the workforce. As the Indigenous population is the fastest growing in Canada and Indigenous workers seem predisposed to the pursuit of careers within the sector, there may be scope to further increase the recruitment of Indigenous people into the province’s construction industry.

The construction industry is also committed to the recruitment of newcomers to Canada. The province is expected to welcome an average of 6,700 new international migrants each year between 2022 and 2027, making the immigrant population a key source of labour force growth. As of 2018, newcomers and more established immigrants accounted for about 6% of Nova Scotia’s construction workforce.

Increasing the participation rate of these groups would go a long way to help Nova Scotia address its future construction industry labour force needs.

BuildForce Canada is a national industry-led organization that represents all sectors of Canada’s construction industry. Its mandate is to support the labour market development needs of the construction and maintenance industry. As part of these activities, BuildForce works with key industry stakeholders, including contractors, proponents of construction, labour providers, governments and training providers, to identify both demand and supply trends that will impact labour force capacity in the sector, and supports the career searches of job seekers wanting to work in the industry. BuildForce also leads programs and initiatives that support workforce upskilling, workforce productivity improvements, improvements to training modalities, human resource tools to support the adoption of industry best practices, as well as other value-added initiatives focused on supporting the industry’s labour force development needs. Visit www.buildforce.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:

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

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