Short-term demand peaks may lead to shortages of experienced workers in British Columbia, but demand will moderate through 2027


British Columbia’s construction market returned to positive growth conditions in 2021, following a brief pause induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, the industry is bracing for further growth, driven by rising major project requirements and sustained levels of new-home construction.

BuildForce Canada released its 2022–2027 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for British Columbia today. The report 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 report to focus more clearly on short- and long-term demand and supply pressures impacting the province’s construction sector.

“British Columbia’s economic growth recovered strongly in 2021. That trend should continue into 2022 and beyond, supported by strong levels of consumption and continued growth in residential and non-residential investment,” says BuildForce Canada Executive Director Bill Ferreira. “Demands in both sectors should be sustained across the forecast period.”

In the near term, growth will be driven by almost every sub-sector of the construction industry, including major heavy industrial, public transit, education, health care, road, highway, and bridge projects, as well as new housing and renovation work, and strong demand for commercial building construction.

Non-residential employment across the province is expected to peak in 2024, before receding through the end of the forecast period as major projects wind down. Residential employment, meanwhile, is expected to rise through 2022 before concluding the forecast period slightly (-2%) below 2021 levels.

“British Columbia’s construction market requires looking deeply at not only the province as a whole, but also its Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island sub-markets, both of which have unique conditions,” says Ferreira.

The Lower Mainland construction market, which includes Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Sunshine Coast, Squamish, and Lillooet, accounts for about 60% of British Columbia’s construction market. Regional activity strengthened in 2021, led by a recovery in industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) building construction and intensification of major project activity. Employment in the Lower Mainland should reach a peak (5% above 2021 levels) in 2023, before receding as major projects wind down and new-home construction slows.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Island, which includes the Capital Region, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, Alberni-Clayoquot, Strathcona, Comox Valley, Powell River, Mount Waddington, and Central Coast, experienced stronger growth in 2021 due to a surge in new-housing construction. The start of a series of major health care and education projects will contribute to a further expansion in 2022, but construction employment is forecast to decline by 4% over 2021 levels by the end of the forecast period in 2027.

BuildForce Canada projects that British Columbia’s construction industry will need to recruit 27,600 additional workers over the forecast period to keep pace with expansion and replacement demands. More than 25,000 of those workers – or 13% of the 2021 construction labour force – are expected to retire during this period. Although the addition of almost 22,000 workers under the age of 30 from local recruitment efforts will help to offset these retirements, the labour force faces a near-term need for large numbers of experienced skilled workers. By 2027, the industry could face a deficit of 5,700 workers unless anticipated recruitment is increased.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. New registrations in British Columbia’s 20 largest construction trade programs peaked in 2018, before declining by 7% in 2019. Based on the latest Registered Apprentice Information Systems data, new registrations declined by a further 18% in 2020, as the impacts of COVID-19 largely halted apprenticeship training and certification in the province.

Based on projected new registrations and completion trends, several trades may be at risk of undersupplying the number of new journeypersons required by 2027. Trades within this group include Boilermaker, Gasfitter, Glazier, Heavy-Duty Equipment Technician, Industrial  Electrician, Insulator, Lather, Painter and Decorator, Roofer, 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, there were approximately 35,200 women employed in British Columbia’s construction industry – an increase of approximately 7% from 2020 levels. Of them, however, about one-third worked directly in on-site construction. As a share of the total, women represented just 6% of the 188,200 tradespeople employed in the industry in 2021. That figure is unchanged from 2020.

The Indigenous population is another underrepresented group that presents recruitment opportunities for British Columbia’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. Historically, newcomers and more established immigrants have accounted for about one-quarter of British Columbia’s construction workforce. With the province expected to welcome an average of just over 55,600 newcomers every year through 2027, the immigrant population will be a key potential source of labour force growth for the construction sector.

Increasing the participation rate of women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians could help British Columbia’s construction industry address its future 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:

Kim Barbero
CEO
Mechanical Contractors Association of British Columbia
604-205-5058

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

Kelly Scott
President
BC Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association
604-436-0220

Rob Viccars
Communications & Marketing
Canadian Homebuilder’s Association of British Columbia
604-432-7112 ext. 301