Facing Canada’s construction workforce crunch

CAGBC Staff on July 7, 2023

Workforce Development

Recently, the CBC published a piece examining the coming labour crunch in Ontario’s construction sector. The article highlights what we have known for a while: the number of workers retiring from the construction sector is outpacing new entrants – by a lot – and that the situation in Ontario is representative of a larger cross-Canada labour shortage.

Author Colin Butler drew from a recent Canada-wide report from the CIBC, writing that a fifth of the workforce is nearing retirement, which will result in 80,000 vacancies. By the end of the decade, estimates indicate it could be as high as 300,000 unfilled jobs.

The situation is exacerbated, he writes, by demand for new construction as provinces make plans to address the housing crisis. Ontario, for example, set its sights on 1.5 million new homes by 2030, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation indicates 5.8 million homes are needed to restore affordability across the country.

Canada will need to grow its construction workforce to reach these housing goals. As we do that, it’s critical that we train the construction workforce of the future so it is prepared to take climate action.

Meeting climate commitments

Meeting Canada’s 2030 and 2050 climate targets depends significantly on carbon reductions across the building sector. Environment and Climate Change Canada projects reductions of 37 percent by 2030 from 2005 values from built environment and net-zero in 2050. Those reductions will only be possible if every new building is a zero-carbon building by 2030, and every existing large building is retrofit to be zero carbon by 2050.

Canada’s building sector has already proven that zero carbon buildings are possible – from new buildings like the Co-operators Guelph headquarters and retrofits like LeMay’s The Phenix, to multi-residential buildings such as Le Faro Montréal, a project that demonstrates that dense housing can also be zero carbon. 

CAGBC estimates that retrofitting the 155,000 buildings across Canada that are over 30,000 square feet could result in a reduction of around 40 mt of carbon emissions. This is equivalent to nearly half the carbon emissions from the building sector as a whole.  

Growing the pool

Retrofitting these large buildings at scale requires a much larger workforce with the skills needed to deliver zero carbon buildings and deep carbon retrofits. New climate policies and funding will ignite Canada’s green retrofit economy, requiring tens of thousands of workers, especially HVAC trades and electricians.

The shortage of workers is a potential opportunity to redirect people from disrupted sectors and bring in underrepresented groups. As a result, industry, academia and government are working to position the building sector as a meaningful and stable career choice, and focusing on attracting Indigenous people, youth, women, immigrants, and other under-represented groups.

Reskilling for low-carbon building

Collaborative strategies that support workforce expansion and training are needed to inspire and attract talent. One example is the Workforce 2030 Coalition, representing employers across the construction ecosystem, unions, and education, working to impact government policy, business practice and training to fast-track workforce transformation.

CAGBC is also supporting the development of a Low-Carbon Trades Training Strategy funded by the Government of British Columbia through the Sector Labour Market Program. This coming fall we will also be launching a nation-wide Low-Carbon Training Program that is funded by the Government of Canada.  

Looking ahead

In our most recent market insight report, Canada’s Green Building Engine, CAGBC looked ahead at what the green building workforce might look like in 2030. If Canada continues on pace with progressive policies such as the Greening Government Strategy and the anticipated Green Buildings Strategy, the green building sector could account for 1.5 million direct jobs, and up to $150 billion in GDP. Green buildings are and will continue to be a high-growth economic sector and the federal government and departments needs to factor this reality when they will finalize their Sustainable Jobs Plan by 2025.

A strong economy and environmental leadership are interconnected. Canada is poised to grow the skilled workforce we need to decarbonize buildings and meet our emissions reduction targets. Other jurisdictions – like Ireland and the U.S.A. – are moving ahead fast with plans that address the green building skills gap. To keep pace as a leader, Canada’s building sector needs bold collaborative action from all levels of government, and leaders in education and training.

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