Modest long-term growth in Alberta’s construction and maintenance industry will require continued recruitment efforts to avoid a labour force gap of more than 23,700 workers by 2029

February 6, 2020

Ottawa – Although Alberta’s construction market slowed in 2019, a potential for modest growth is expected through the next decade, driven by a strengthening residential sector in the near term, and strengthening non-residential demand over the longer term. Given expected industry retirements, this demand may leave the province with a shortfall of 23,700 workers by the end of 2029, according to the labour market forecast released today by BuildForce Canada.

BuildForce Canada’s 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial report forecasts employment requirements for both the residential and non-residential sectors to increase by nearly 23,400 workers (+13%) between 2020 and 2029.

The intensification of near-term work on several petrochemical projects and oil and gas pipeline expansions — including completion of the Canadian portion of Enbridge’s Line 3 in 2019 and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion to 2023 — is expected to maintain non-residential construction employment over the short term.

While a number of significant new oil and gas projects are being tracked, there are currently no short-term projects included in the outlook. The completion of both the Enbridge and Trans Mountain pipeline projects should help kickstart the construction of a number of new and currently tracked major oil sands investments later in the decade.

“Due to the intense and time-sensitive nature of industrial shutdown and turnaround maintenance work, seasonal recruiting challenges may arise,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “We expect labour force requirements in both 2020 and 2021 to be higher than normal.”

Many of the skilled trades required for maintenance are in high demand, so these projects can create periods of seasonal labour force tightness. Alberta may also face recruiting challenges as it competes for highly specialized workers with other provinces, particularly Ontario and British Columbia, where several major capital projects requiring similar skills are ongoing or expected to commence shortly.

Ongoing road, highway, and bridge work and major planned public transportation investments in both Calgary and Edmonton are also expected to sustain non-residential construction, although scope and scheduling details for some of these projects are still fluid. Several large office tower projects are expected to reach completion in 2020, even as near-term office vacancy rates rise. Restrained government spending should moderate investment in institutional buildings in 2020 and 2021.

For the period between 2020 and 2029, non-residential construction activity will require the industry to increase employment by more than 14,700 workers, concentrated between 2023 and 2027.
Despite weaker market conditions in 2019 due to declines in new-housing construction, a modest recovery in housing starts and increased renovation activity is expected to return the residential labour market to balance by 2020. The residential sector is expected to add just over 8,700 residential workers (+12%) by 2029, driven by a moderate strengthening in new-housing demands, with rising renovation activity projected to contribute nearly 2,700 workers to that total.

“In the first two quarters of 2019, Alberta led the country in terms of population growth, boosted by both natural growth as well as international and interprovincial migration," says Ferreira. “This rise in the population should translate into greater demand for construction services in the latter half of our outlook, particularly for housing and commercial and institutional buildings.”  

The population increase should also help ameliorate the impact of retirements on the province’s construction labour force, which is expected to lose 41,500 workers to retirement over the decade while only drawing in an estimated 40,300 local new entrants aged 30 and younger over the same period. When coupled with the rise in demand for construction services, the provincial labour force may be short 23,700 workers by 2029.

The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. From 2013 to 2019, more than 84,200 apprentices registered in Alberta’s 19 largest construction trade programs, with 40,260 completions reported during that period. BuildForce Canada is starting to track the number of skilled trades workers with Certificates of Qualifications. Based on current apprenticeship completion trends and anticipated retirement levels throughout the decade, several trades may see a reduction in the number of certified journeypersons. Boilermakers and carpenters are at a higher risk. Although apprentices alone cannot meet the significant near-term demand requirements for journeypersons, 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 rely on increased recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians.

In 2019, Alberta’s construction industry employed approximately 38,200 women, of which 33% worked on-site, directly on construction projects. Although Alberta is the leading employer of women within the construction trades (slightly ahead of British Columbia), women made up only 6.8% of the 183,500 tradespeople employed in the industry. Similarly, Indigenous people also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for approximately 6.4% of the total. Increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to help the Alberta industry address 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 a net annual average of 36,000 newcomers, making the immigrant population an important future source of potential workers for the province’s construction and maintenance industry.

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 labour force requirements and build the capacity and the capability of Canada’s construction and maintenance industry.

For further information, contact Bill Ferreira, Executive Director, BuildForce Canada, at or 613-569-5552 ext. 222.

This report was produced with the support and input of a variety of provincial construction and maintenance industry stakeholders. For local industry reaction to this latest BuildForce Canada report, please contact:Ian F. Reid
Alberta Construction Association
403-319-0470 ext. 2233

Ron Glen
Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association

Terry Parker
Executive Director
Building Trades of Alberta
(780) 421-9400 ext. 112

Dennis Perrin
Prairies Director

Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
(403) 620-3781

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.