Construction Workforce Challenges Take On New Focus

January 18, 2016

Alberta – Oil sands job losses, an aging workforce, the departure of out-of-province workers and the ongoing demand for workers to sustain and maintain projects are all behind complex shifts in Alberta’s construction workforce, according to the latest labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

“A skills vacuum is a real risk with the exodus of thousands of interprovincial workers within and outside the resource industry,” said Rosemary Sparks, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “The loss of as many as 36,000 skilled workers retiring this decade makes it even more challenging to replace that kind of experience.”

BuildForce Canada’s 2016‒2025 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward forecast shows that declining oil prices are driving employment lower across all construction sectors, with the projected loss of 31,000 jobs from the peak in 2014 to 2019.

Even as Alberta’s economy weakens, however, there is work in sustaining capital, maintenance, shutdowns/turnarounds and outages for skilled trades such as boilermakers, pipefitters and specialty welders. BuildForce Canada’s annual forecast also shows:

Oil sands construction:

  • Labour requirements decline by 28 percent from the peak in 2014 to 2020. A gradual increase in oil prices restores confidence with new investment in the oil sands in 2020.
  • Employment follows, with gains of 4,000 jobs from 2020 to 2025, primarily in sustaining capital and maintenance.

Non-residential construction:

  • Investment and employment mirror the oil sands cycle with job losses that total 16,500 by 2019 compared to the 2014 peak. As markets improve after 2020, employment rises by 12,000 by the end of the scenario period in 2025. Low oil prices that prompted a decline in engineering, institutional and industrial construction in 2015 carry through to 2019.
  • Commercial building is the exception, with current project activity continuing into 2016, before slowing in 2017, and growing in steady increments over the long term.

Residential construction:

  • Total residential construction falls by 9,000 jobs from 2016 to 2019, followed by a partial recovery that raises employment by 7,000 jobs to 2025.
  • Home renovation work is stable, growing by 1,900 jobs across the forecast period.

“Alberta has been through construction cycles before, but nothing this complex,” added Sparks. “That’s why it’s crucial for industry to stay focused on recruiting young people and attracting and keeping those skilled trades that are, or will be in the most demand.”

BuildForce Canada is a national industry-led organization that represents all sectors of Canada’s construction industry. Its mandate is to provide accurate and timely labour market data and analysis, as well as programs and initiatives to help manage workforce requirements and build the capacity and the capability of Canada’s construction and maintenance workforce. Visit:

For further information, contact: Rosemary Sparks, Executive Director, BuildForce Canada, or (905)-852-9186

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program