Predicting the future is seldom straightforward, but it doesn’t take a fearless forecast to see what a wave of looming retirements will mean for labour needs in the construction industry.
How big of a wave? More than one of every five construction workers – 22 per cent of the total workforce – is expected to call it quits within the next seven years.
In a market where labour supply is already limited and construction activity is booming, demand for workers is expected to defy any potential economic headwinds and stay strong over the decade ahead, if not beyond.
John Viktorin is a project manager at BuildForce Canada, a national, industry-led organization that provides workforce management assistance and resources to employers in the construction industry.
According to Viktorin, labour demand in construction is “projected to stay high for nearly all professions for the foreseeable future,” driven in part by Canada’s stated goal of transitioning to a net-zero economy by 2050.
“From HVAC installation to the building of charging stations and new power generating facilities, construction workforce demands are expected to rise as the economy adapts and the existing workforce ages.” Viktorin said.
“When retirements are taken into account, the sector as a whole is looking at hiring around 300,000 new workers over the next 10 years. That’s a lot of opportunity for anyone wanting to get into construction.”
To help employers find the new talent they need, BuildForce recently launched Construction Career Pathways, which matches eligible workers with small and medium-sized businesses (500 employees or fewer) looking to fill entry-level roles.
Through Construction Career Pathways, job seekers can get hired for a paid placement lasting a minimum of 16 weeks. It’s an ideal opportunity to learn about construction jobs and, potentially, take the first steps on a path towards full-time employment or apprenticeship training in one of the skilled trades.
For employers, Construction Career Pathways is more than just a vital pipeline to talent. For starters, a federally-funded onboarding incentive provides up to $2400 in wage subsidy funding for every worker who completes a 16-week placement. Employees must work at least 20 hours per week throughout the placement for the employer to qualify for the subsidy.
Beyond that, Construction Career Pathways further benefits employers by helping them add diversity to their workforce. The program promotes the hiring of women, members of Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities, persons with disabilities, newcomers to Canada, those who identify as LGBTQ2S+, and youth facing barriers.
Employers also get access to training resources to help support diversity and inclusion, including BuildForce’s online courses on respectful and inclusive workplaces and an introduction to systemic racism, Viktorin said.
“The construction industry is looking to broaden its recruitment channels, though many employers aren’t entirely sure how,” he explained. “This program is here to help. We want to help employers find new sources to hire workers. We want to help them identify new ways to hire from untapped workforce pools, and help get them away from traditional hiring channels that don’t always result in diverse hiring, such as word of mouth.”
Aware that some aspiring construction workers may think they need to fulfill lengthy and expensive training requirements before finding work, Viktorin insists “little to no experience” is necessary to land a job through Construction Career Pathways.
Just as not everyone who works in a restaurant kitchen needs the skills and talents of a master chef, the average construction site has roles with a wide range of skill levels and responsibilities, including opportunities for those without specialized training or experience.
“Almost any construction site you can imagine – road and highway construction, home building, sewer and water work, institutional and commercial building, and many others – can have opportunities available,” Viktorin explained. “Opportunities often have the word ‘labourer’ or ‘helper’ in the job title, like General Labourer, Landscape Labourer, Trades Helper/Labourer, and Carpenter Helper. Others include jobs like Flagger and Painter.”
What’s most important isn’t skills, Viktorin said, but internal drive and dedication.
“Construction employers are looking to hire motivated job seekers regardless of their experience,” he explained. “The key thing employers are looking for is dependability and the ability to communicate with co-workers. An understanding of basic math and the ability to think logically are also preferred.”
Construction Career Pathways is a first-of-its-kind program, Viktorin said, pointing out that most workforce initiatives in the industry are targeted at hiring apprentices from the Red Seal trades.
“Employers in heavy civil construction, residential construction, and other construction sectors that don’t hire many Red Seal trades haven’t had opportunities to access supports like these, so we’re excited to offer them,” he said.
Job seekers are matched with employer opportunities after they’ve both registered on the Construction Career Pathways website. The registration process asks a few basic questions of each participant type to facilitate the matching process, then connects job seekers with employers in their area.
Once a job seeker lands with a local employer, and has completed BuildForce’s online safety awareness course, they’re ready to start working.
“After the 16 weeks are up, the worker can take whatever next steps they want,” Viktorin said. “They can go back to school, continue working with the employer, take a break, or find a new job with their new work experience.”