By BuildForce Canada
Short-term contractions in British Columbia’s construction sector are short lived, with the residential sector poised to drive growth to 2032Canadian Contractor Trades & Hiring
May 5, 2023 – British Columbia’s construction sector enjoyed another strong year of growth in 2022, with investment levels in both the residential and non-residential sectors rising to peaks. The former was sustained by high levels of real-estate demand, while the latter was supported by a series of ongoing engineering-construction projects and strong investments in hospitals and health care facilities.
Construction demands are expected to contract in the near term, with elevated interest rates curbing residential demand and work concluding on key major non-residential projects.
BuildForce Canada released its 2023–2032 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report for British Columbia. It finds that after recording strong gains in 2021 and 2022, employment is poised to contract in the short term due to a modest decline in residential construction related to rising interest rates and the wind down of work on several major projects in the province.
A series of increases follow through the remainder of the forecast period, mostly in the residential sector, with total employment reaching more than four per cent above 2022 levels by 2032. 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.
A full analysis of British Columbia’s construction sector requires detailed looks at not only the provincial market as a whole, but also at the two key provincial sub-markets: the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. Both have their own unique market conditions.
The Lower Mainland construction market, which includes Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Sunshine Coast, Squamish, and Lillooet, accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the province’s construction employment. Regional activity strengthened again in 2022, led by peak levels of investment in both the residential and non-residential sectors.
Total construction employment in the Lower Mainland construction market is expected to contract through to 2026, as losses in the residential sector offset gains in the non-residential sector. Thereafter, it rises to the end of the forecast period, increasing by three per cent to 2032, with employment in the non-residential sector accounting for all of the increase. Residential employment is mostly unchanged.
The Vancouver Island construction market, which includes the Capital Region, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, Alberni-Clayoquot, Strathcona, Comox Valley, Powell River, Mount Waddington, and Central Coast, also experienced growth in 2022. Activity was supported by a modest increase in residential investment and stronger growth in the non-residential sector. Construction employment is expected to contract by just over three per cent across the forecast period, as residential employment declines by nearly four per cent from its 2022 peak, and non-residential employment is virtually unchanged.
BuildForce Canada projects that British Columbia’s construction industry will need to recruit 52,600 additional workers over the forecast period to keep pace with expansion and replacement demands. More than 38,000 of those workers – or 20 per cent of the 2022 construction labour force – are expected to retire during this period. Although the addition of almost 34,000 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 2032, the industry could face a deficit of 18,700 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 25 largest construction trade programs have fluctuated in recent years, despite an overall increase of 14 per cent in employment between 2013 and 2019.
Based on projected new registrations and completion trends, several trades may be at risk of undersupplying the number of new journeypersons required by 2032. Trades within this group include Boilermaker, Bricklayer, Carpenter, Gas Fitter, Glazier, Heavy Equipment Operator, Industrial Instrumentation Technician, Industrial Mechanic, Insulator, Lather, Mobile Crane Operator, Painter and Decorator, Powerline Technician, Roofer, and Welder.
In 2022, there were approximately 33,500 women employed in British Columbia’s construction industry – a contraction of about five per cent from 2021 levels. Of them, 31 per cent worked directly in on-site construction. As a share of the total, women represented six per cent of the 182,100 tradespeople employed in the industry in 2022. That figure is unchanged from 2021.
The Indigenous population is another under-represented group that presents recruitment opportunities for British Columbia’s construction industry. In 2021, Indigenous workers accounted for 6.2 per cent of the province’s construction labour force, which is a slight increase from 2016. It is also notably higher than the share of Indigenous People represented in the overall labour force.
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. The province is expected to welcome an average of just under 80,000 newcomers every year through 2032, based on historical settlement trends.