A strong rebound in the residential sector drives construction employment forward in Saskatchewan | BuildForce Canada

A strong rebound in the residential sector drives construction employment forward in Saskatchewan

March 27, 2024 – Ottawa, ON

As was the case in many provinces, Saskatchewan’s construction sector saw modest growth in 2023. Investment levels in the non-residential sector rose notably in response to strong activity in transportation, manufacturing, resource, and public infrastructure projects. Investment in the residential sector, meanwhile, contracted as interest rates rose.

The BuildForce Canada 2024–2033 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for Saskatchewan, released today, finds that short-term outlooks for the province’s residential and non-residential construction will chart diverting courses.

After contracting again in 2024, residential-construction activity is expected to grow strongly between 2025 and 2028, and remain elevated to 2033. This occurs as lending rates decline and as the population grows. Activity in the residential renovations segment is poised to grow continuously after 2024.

In contrast, non-residential activity is projected to peak in 2024 with strong engineering-construction investment levels complementing robust construction of industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings. Between 2026 and 2031, however, activity remains largely unchanged before contracting in later years of the outlook.

As a result of these factors, overall construction employment is projected to increase across the forecast period. Residential employment is projected to grow by 18% above 2023 levels by 2033, with gains greatest in new housing. Non-residential employment is poised to rise by less than 1%, with gains in industrial, commercial, and institutional building employment and maintenance employment offsetting a loss in engineering-construction employment.

“Immigration spiked in Saskatchewan in 2023 and is forecast to remain well above historical levels into 2025 at least. This helped create strong demand for new housing in the province, and will be a driver of growth for the residential sector into the middle years of our forecast period,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “The outlook for the non-residential sector, on the other hand, is more closely tied to selected major projects, including the Jansen potash mine, as well as growth in institutional and government building projects.”

Such growth could strain already-challenged labour markets. Entering the forecast period, many of Saskatchewan’s non-residential trades and occupations were experiencing tight labour markets, and strong contractions are projected in the residential sector between 2025 and 2027. Compounding these challenges is an average annual unemployment rate of just 6.1% in 2023 – among the lowest levels seen in the province in nearly 10 years.

“Across the forecast period to 2033, BuildForce anticipates that as many as 9,500 workers, or 23% of the province’s current construction labour force, will exit the industry through retirement. At the same time, demand growth will require the addition of 4,000 workers, bringing the total recruitment requirement to 13,500 workers. This will keep labour force development front and centre for all contractors in the industry,” says Warren Douglas of the Construction Labour Relations Association of Saskatchewan Inc.

The BuildForce analysis is based on existing known demands and does not take into account public-sector initiatives to address housing affordability challenges, 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. Both scenarios are addressed in separate reports to be released by BuildForce Canada at a later date.

Given the province’s comparatively younger demographics, most of the industry’s hiring requirements could be met by an estimated 10,100 first-time new entrants under the age of 30 from the local population. This would leave a gap of about 3,400 workers that will need to be recruited from outside the local construction labour force.

“The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program,” says Dennis Perrin, Prairies Director of CLAC. “It’s clear even more will need to be done to improve the promotion of careers in construction in order to increase industry recruitment to enable the industry to keep pace with anticipated future construction demands.”

In 2023, there were approximately 5,290 women employed in Saskatchewan’s construction industry. That figure represents a decrease of 740 over the 6,030 reported in 2022. Of them, 31% worked directly in on-site construction. As a share of the total, women made up just 4% of the 38,700 tradespeople employed in the industry in 2023.

The Indigenous population is another group that presents recruitment opportunities for Saskatchewan’s construction industry. The province has been successful in increasing the share of Indigenous People in the construction workforce. In 2021, Indigenous workers accounted for approximately 14% of the province’s construction labour force, which is an increase of one percentage point from the share observed in 2016. It is also notably higher than the share of Indigenous People represented in the overall labour force (11.5%). 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 may also leverage newcomers over the coming decade to meet anticipated labour market requirements. Based on current trends, Saskatchewan is expected to see elevated levels of immigration over the forecast period. This will make newcomers a key contributor to the industry’s labour force. Newcomers comprised about 9% of the provincial construction labour force in 2022. That figure is smaller than the 16% employed in the province’s overall labour force.

“Increasing the participation rate of women, Indigenous People, and new Canadians will be important in helping Saskatchewan’s construction industry continue to meet its future labour force needs,” says Paul de Jong, President of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. “Workforce diversity will be increasingly important as the available pool of younger workers declines and competition among industries to recruit them intensifies. It’s not just the right thing to do, but also critical to ensuring the sector has the skilled resources in the future to respond in a timely manner to the needs of the Canadian economy.” 

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, and was funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.

For local industry reaction to this latest BuildForce Canada report, please contact:

Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA)

Warren Douglas
Executive Director
Construction Labour Relations Association of Saskatchewan Inc.

Dennis Perrin
Prairies Director