VRCA members surveyed tell us the No. 1 issue keeping them up at night is the skilled labour shortage. And with good reason – the Lower Mainland’s construction industry is busy and unemployment in the construction industry is below 4 per cent, placing it near historic lows.
On Feb. 6, BuildForce Canada released its 2020-2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward forecast for B.C., which suggests if nothing changes, the construction industries in the Lower Mainland and British Columbia are facing a significant shortage of skilled trade workers that will continue through 2029.
Record levels of housing starts and major project investment propelled construction activity to a new high in 2019. While demand for construction services is expected to peak in the latter half of 2021, it is forecast to remain well above the 2019 levels through 2029.
According to the BuildForce forecast, employment in the Lower Mainland construction industry will grow by 15,000 workers by 2029 in response to project demand. During this period, the industry is expected to lose 25,300 workers to retirement, which will be offset somewhat by the 22,900 first-time new entrants aged 30 years and younger anticipated to join the local construction workforce. This still leaves the Lower Mainland 17,400 workers short by 2029.
The near-term outlook is particularly challenging. With numerous overlapping infrastructure projects underway or about to break ground, the Lower Mainland will need 7,500 additional workers by late 2021 to meet demand. Over the next two years, the local industry is expected to lose 4,800 workers to retirement while attracting 4,900 and local new entrants to the workforce. This still leaves the Lower Mainland short 7,300 workers by late 2021.
The provincial forecast is also troubling. In response to project demand, employment in B.C.’s construction industry is forecast to grow by 16,600 workers by 2029. In the same period, the industry is expected to lose 44,200 workers to retirement, which will be offset somewhat by the 37,800 new entrants anticipated to enter the province’s construction workforce. This still leaves the industry with a shortfall of some 23,000 workers to meet the forecast demand for construction labour.
BuildForce Canada suggests that building a sustainable workforce will require the industry to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous workers and new Canadians.
Investing in training and apprenticeships is also needed to avoid potential skills shortages over the long term, however, it will not address the immediate need for skilled trades workers.
“The forecast confirms again that British Columbia and the Lower Mainland need both long- and short-term strategies to address the skilled labour shortage,” said Fiona Famulak, VRCA president. “We need continued investment in the training and development of skilled trades people to build our future workforce. At the same time, there is an immediate need for skilled trades workers that cannot be satisfied simply by increasing training and apprenticeships.
“To meet the labour demand of the next two years, we need people tooled up and ready to go now. We need to recruit skilled workers from other provinces, other industries, and from outside the country in order to avoid project delays.”
The 2020-2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward highlights reports for each province are available on the BuildForce Canada website.