Labour market challenges could continue across Ontario’s construction industry into the near future, as ongoing activity in both the residential and non-residential sectors builds employment to a peak in 2028 and adds pressure to already-tight recruiting conditions.
BuildForce Canada published its 2023–2032 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for Ontario today. It finds that labour markets for many of Ontario’s construction trades and occupations were strained at the end of 2022. Despite rising interest rates, activity in the residential sector remained strong, spurred by high levels of migration into the province and high levels of renovation activity. Meanwhile, the province’s non-residential sector continues to be buoyed by a long list of major projects in nearly every region.
Looking across the 10-year forecast period, activity in the province’s residential sector will be influenced by several key variables. Rising interest rates are expected to contract the province’s new-housing construction sector in 2023 and 2024. These contractions will be moderated somewhat by strong migration into the province, while overall residential activity will be supported by a renovation and maintenance sector that is expected to grow continuously through 2032. After contracting slightly in 2023 and 2024, overall residential employment is expected to reach a peak in 2030, before slowing through 2032.
Meanwhile, the province’s non-residential sector is projected to grow across the forecast period, as major projects in every region drive demands higher. Employment is expected to reach a peak of 16% above 2022 levels in 2027 as work culminates on many major projects. Key projects include light-rail transit and subway projects in major urban centres, ongoing nuclear refurbishments at Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation, and major health-sector and other institutional projects across all regions.
The outlook for the complete forecast period sees construction and maintenance employment rising to a peak in 2028, by which time it will have increased by nearly 8% above 2022 levels. By 2032, however, it is expected to slow to 5% above 2022 levels, with growth pronounced in the non-residential sector (+11%) and a more modest expansion of 2% forecast for the residential sector.
These numbers are based on existing known demands and do not take into account the federal government’s goal to double the number of new homes built across Canada over the next 10 years, nor the anticipated increase in demand for construction services related to the retrofit of existing residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings to accommodate the electrification of the economy.
“Ontario’s construction and maintenance sector is poised for a number of years of strong growth,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “Its challenge will be working within already-taxed labour markets. A number of older workers who exited the labour market during the COVID-19 pandemic have been slow to return. This fact, combined with steady employment gains, has pushed construction-sector unemployment rates to record-low levels. The situation is further complicated by the loss of skills and experience created by the departure of these older workers, and which cannot easily be replaced by new hires.”
Although interconnected, Ontario’s five regions – Central, Eastern, Greater Toronto Area, Northern, and Southwestern – each feature discrete labour market conditions and can create complementary and competing demands for workers.
Central Ontario has seen its construction sector bolstered in part by a significant outflow of residents from the Greater Toronto Area in recent years. Pandemic-driven work-from-home arrangements, combined with improved rail transportation and a lower cost of living, have helped to advance new-housing construction in the region. The local housing market is expected to contract in 2023 due to rising interest rates, but growth is expected again by 2025. Non-residential employment will be sustained by a combination of major engineering-construction projects, many of them in the Hamilton area. Total construction employment is anticipated to add 1% over 2022 levels, with increases exclusive to the non-residential sector.
Eastern Ontario reported some of the tightest labour markets in the province in 2022, with most trades and occupations strained. Although recruiting challenges are expected to ease in the residential sector in the near term, the outlook for the non-residential sector suggests challenges could remain through 2027 and 2028. The regional market is benefiting from a series of high-value public-sector projects, including the second phase of Ottawa’s light rail line, the redevelopment of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block, and the refurbishment and construction of several other federal buildings. New hospital projects in Ottawa and Kingston add to market demands in later years. Overall employment rises to a peak in 2027 and moderates thereafter.
The Greater Toronto Area’s construction market is underpinned by a series of large-scale public transportation, nuclear refurbishment, new hospital, and other government building restoration projects that bring non-residential employment to a peak in 2027. Meanwhile, the regional residential sector is expected to emerge from a short contraction by 2024 and will be supported by a combination of a growing and aging housing stock that requires continual maintenance, and by a general trend of older individuals investing in their homes to age in place. Overall construction employment grows by 27,200 workers (+16%) over 2022 levels by 2032.
The construction market in Northern Ontario is heavily influenced by activity in the mining and utility sectors. With both expected to report strong gains in 2023, and with work on the Thunder Bay correctional facility and the Weeneebayko hospital scheduled to begin in later forecast years, non-residential employment should be sustained at elevated levels through at least 2027. The outlook for the residential sector follows a similar trend.
Southwestern Ontario has been supported by a strong housing market, also driven by out-migration from the Greater Toronto Area. After a brief decline in 2022, the regional residential market should rise to peak employment by 2027 before receding in later years. The local non-residential sector, meanwhile, begins the forecast period operating at elevated levels, with ongoing work on the Bruce Power nuclear refurbishment, the Gordie Howe bridge, new battery manufacturing and auto retooling investments, and a significant rise in industrial shutdown/turnaround maintenance work in Sarnia. The proposed start of the Windsor acute care hospital in 2026 adds to employment later in the period. By 2032, Southwestern Ontario’s construction sector is expected to contract modestly from elevated 2022 levels.
Meeting peak demands across Ontario’s discrete regions will be challenged by limited interregional mobility, as high levels of demand are projected to exist in most regional construction markets across the province over the near term. Construction also faces the added challenge of an aging workforce. When combined with employment increases created by growth, the expected retirement of more than 82,600 workers (18% of the 2022 labour force) will increase overall industry hiring requirements to nearly 119,000 over the forecast period.
Due in part to increased and targeted promotional efforts, the provincial construction industry has grown the number of young workers under the age of 25 in its labour force by 7% since 2019. Across the entire forecast period, it is expected to recruit approximately 88,400 new entrants under the age of 30 from within the province. This leaves a projected gap of almost 30,500 workers that will need to be filled from a variety of sources outside the existing labour force to meet demands.
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 32 largest trade programs reached record levels in 2019, and have risen faster than employment over the past decade as a whole, leading to an increased supply of journeypersons.
Based on the current pace of new apprenticeship registrations and completion trends, several trades may be at risk of undersupplying the number of new journeypersons required by 2032. They include Bricklayer, Carpenter, Construction Craft Worker, Floor Covering Installer, Glazier, Heavy-Duty Equipment Operator, Industrial Instrumentation Technician, Insulator (heat and frost), Mobile Crane Operator, Painter and Decorator, Roofer, Tractor Trailer Driver, 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 under-represented in the province’s construction labour force, such as women, Indigenous People, and newcomers to Canada.
In 2022, Ontario’s construction industry employed approximately 70,400 women. That figure represents an increase of nearly 2,700 from 2021’s total. Of them, only 23% worked directly in on-site construction, however. As a share of the total, women represented just 4% of the more than 435,000 tradespeople employed in Ontario in 2022. Those figures are unchanged from 2021.
The Indigenous population is another under-represented group that presents recruitment opportunities for Ontario’s construction industry. In 2021, Indigenous workers accounted for 3% of the province’s construction labour force. That figure is unchanged from the share observed in 2016, and slightly higher than the 2.5% represented in the overall labour force. 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. Based on historical settlement trends, Ontario is expected to welcome an average of nearly 190,500 newcomers every year through 2032. This fact could make the immigrant population a key source of labour force growth. In 2021, newcomers comprised 27% of Ontario’s construction labour force.
Increasing the participation rate of women, Indigenous People, and new Canadians could help Ontario’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 email@example.com 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:
Business Manager and Secretary Treasurer
Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario
London & District Construction Association
Ontario General Contractors Association
Council of Ontario Construction Associations
416-968-7200 ext. 224
John A. DeVries
President & GM
Ottawa Construction Association
613-236-0488, ext. 10
Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
Construction Labour Relations Association – Ontario
Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario
Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.