Canada’s Building Boom Leaves Labour Pool Dry

Construction demand and an aging workforce will create ‘unprecedented demand’ on the labour market, forcing construction firms to tap into non-traditional labour sources including immigrants.

By Julia Johnson, The Financial Post

As money across the country pours into building everything from navy ships in Halifax to condos in Toronto to oil upgraders in northern Alberta, Canadians will have to ditch the traditional, cliché image of the North American construction worker.

Economists for the Construction Sector Council predict that Canada will create 111,000 new construction jobs by 2019, while 208,000 workers will retire, creating “unprecedented demand” on the labour workforce, says the president of the national construction association.

“We’ve got, sort of, two waves in a perfect storm here,” said Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association.

The traditional Canadian labour pool has dried up and construction firms will have to tap into non-traditional labour sources such as youth, women, Aboriginal people, workers with similar skill sets in other industries and new immigrants, said Construction Sector Council economist Bob Collins.

Projects initiated and slated across the country driving demand include resource-based projects in British Columbia, shipyard construction in Nova Scotia, mining and offshore developments in Newfoundland, potash production in Saskatchewan and utilities infrastructure investments in Ontario.

John Beck, chairman and chief executive of construction heavyweight Aecon Group Inc., said it will have gaps to fill in positions at every level.

In addition to relying on its existing labour base and unions, Aecon is working to increase its percentage of Aboriginal and female employees, Mr. Beck said.

The Construction Sector Council forecasts suggest half of the new workers will have to come from outside Canada to meet the demand.

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