Updated: Mar 14
British Columbia was among the provinces hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19 in 2020, recording the first material decline in construction employment in more than a decade.
British Columbia was among the provinces hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19 in 2020, recording the first material decline in construction employment in more than a decade. The strong pullback was felt in new housing, and commercial and industrial building construction, which experienced double-digit declines in investment compared to 2019.
The overall losses were only partly offset by rising major project demands, including the LNG Canada facility, Site C dam, the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, and numerous public-transportation projects. The decline follows a period of rapid growth that translated into a 20% increase in construction employment over the four years prior to 2020, which drove down unemployment and led to the emergence of widespread recruiting challenges.
Construction is poised for renewed growth in 2021, as major project demands continue to rise and industrial and commercial investment recovers. Non-residential employment is expected to rise by 11,400 workers to an anticipated peak in 2022. Much of the anticipated growth in construction investment is concentrated in the Lower Mainland region, driven by several major transportation and other major public-infrastructure projects. The pace of residential employment growth is constrained in 2021, driven by continued weakness in new-housing construction, where a modest decline in housing starts is expected, particularly in condo and apartment construction.
The challenges of meeting the ramp-up in major-project requirements have been somewhat lessened by increased mobility potentially from other sectors that weakened in 2020, but mobility may be limited for some trades where specialized skills and experience are needed to meet near-term peak demands. Over the decade, industry growth increases the labour force by more than 18,600 workers – up 10% compared to 2020. Industry must also address the need to replace an aging workforce, with an estimated 41,000 workers, or 22% of the current labour force, expected to retire. Combining retirement and expansion demands, the construction industry will need to recruit close to 59,650 workers over the coming decade. This demand may be partially met by up to 35,150 new entrants under the age of 30 available locally, but a significant portion of remaining demand will need to be drawn from other industries or other provinces.
PROVINCIAL RESIDENTIAL SECTOR
Residential construction in the province declined sharply in 2020, as COVID-19 impacted both new-home construction and renovation work. Housing starts fell sharply due to lower demand from reductions in migration to the province and lower investment for condos and apartments. COVID-related mandatory lockdowns and travel restrictions in 2020 reduced population growth and new household formations.
As the economy fully reopens and travel restrictions are reduced, international migration to the province is expected to resume. Renewed population growth translates into a rise in housing starts between 2022 and 2024.
THE AVAILABLE LABOUR FORCE
The residential labour force is projected to increase by almost 8,600 additional workers to keep pace with expansion requirements over the decade. The expected retirement of nearly 24,300 workers during this period will increase the overall recruitment requirement to close to 32,800 workers. The addition of an estimated 19,674 new-entrant workers under the age of 30 from local recruitment efforts will help to moderate labour force pressures, but unless recruitment is increased, a cumulative deficit of 13,166 workers is expected to emerge over the scenario period.