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Alberta's Labour Force Gap


Feb 8, 2019 - 4 months ago

By Supply Post

Alberta: Slower Short-Term Growth In Alberta’s Construction And Maintenance Industry Still Requires Ongoing Recruitment Efforts To Avoid A Labour Force Gap Of 21,100 Workers By 2028

Employment in Alberta’s construction and maintenance industry rose in 2018 for the first time since 2015 heralding a return to modest employment growth that, combined with retirements, may create a labour force gap of approximately 21,100 workers by the end of 2028, according to the labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

BuildForce Canada’s 2019–2028 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial report forecasts employment requirements for both the residential and non-residential sectors to remain mostly unchanged in the short term, but as activity increases after 2021, the industry is projected to grow by 11% by 2028. The commissioning of the Fort Hills oil sands mining and processing operation represented a swing from large-scale oil sands expansion to sustaining capital and maintenance activities. Provincial economic diversification efforts are helping to broaden the construction market with a new emphasis on industrial and institutional building construction and infrastructure modernization and expansion.

“Major investments in public transportation and road and highway infrastructure will increase non-residential employment demand through 2028,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada.

Numerous short-term projects, such as the light rail transit projects in Edmonton and Calgary, the upgrades to the Yellowhead Trail, and the Calgary Ring Road project, should dominate non-residential employment activity for the next several years. Between 2018 and 2028, rising non-residential construction activity will require the industry to increase employment by 12,900 workers. During this period, the residential sector is expected to slow in the short term, but then grow modestly, adding 5,800 workers by 2028. Combined, anticipated increased demand will add just over 18,700 new workers to the Alberta labour force by 2028.

Adding to the province’s labour force challenges is the growing demand for shutdown and turnaround maintenance work in the oil sands sector. These projects draw large numbers of specific trades for very brief periods. Many of the required skilled trades are in short supply, so stacking these projects can create periods of acute labour shortage. The last peak occurred in spring 2018, and early signs point to 2020 or 2021 as the next possible peak demand period for turnaround and maintenance work. Alberta will likely then face recruiting challenges because it will be competing for highly specialized workers with other provinces, particularly Ontario and British Columbia, where major capital projects will demand workers with the same skills.

As elsewhere in Canada, high rates of retirement within the industry will be the biggest story on the labour supply side, with Alberta’s construction and maintenance sector expected to lose an estimated 40,800 workers to retirement over the next 10 years.

“Alberta is expected to lead the country in population growth, in large part due to in-migration during resource-sector expansion, putting it in a better position than others in terms of labour force potential,” says Ferreira.

As such, the industry may be able to draw on more than 38,400 new entrants aged 30 and younger from the province’s population, but combined with the increased demand for just over 18,700 new workers, this still leaves a gap of approximately 21,100 workers the industry will need to recruit, train, and retain.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. Over the past five years, more than 77,000 apprentices registered in Alberta’s 15 largest construction programs, with 35,000 completions registered during that period. An ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will be necessary to ensure there are sufficient numbers of qualified tradespeople to sustain a skilled workforce over the long term.

Building a sustainable labour force will also require the construction and maintenance industry to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous Canadians, and new Canadians.

In 2018, women employed in Alberta represented 46% of the province’s total labour force. In the province’s construction and maintenance industry, however, women represented just 15% of the industry’s labour force and accounted for only 4.6% of workers employed in direct on-site project construction. Similarly, Indigenous Canadians also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for little more than 6.4% of the total. Increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to helping the industry address its future labour force needs.

Alberta’s construction workforce is made up of approximately 17% new Canadians. Over the coming decade, the province is expected to welcome an average of 33,200 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important future source of potential workers for the province’s construction and maintenance industry. b


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