Construction shortage in Canada's west

As oil & gas expansion picks up pace in Canada’s West and more baby boomers exit the workforce, Alberta and the western provinces are facing a growing labour shortfall in the booming construction and trades sector.

Alberta to need 40,000 construction workers
Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board says the western provinces will face a significant challenge in finding skilled labour to meet future demands. A recent report from the Mining Association of Canada shows almost $140 billion in new projects planned over the next decade.

In Alberta alone, the government has forecast a shortage of 77,000 workers over the coming decade. Since then, that estimate has grown by nearly 50%, to about 114,000 workers.

“I think we’re feeling the effects of a tightening labour market,” says training board chair Raymond Massey. “Some people call it a tsunami coming towards us and I believe right now, we’re just under the crest of that wave. We need to act and we need to act now because all of a sudden we’re going to be swamped.”

Alberta’s construction sector would be about 40,000 workers short by 2019, he added – “and, 2019 is not that far away.”

Construction shortages strike Saskatchewan & BC
Alberta isn’t the only western province facing this challenge. The neighbouring provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia are already grappling with a tight labour market as new billion-dollar energy projects come on stream.

In Saskatchewan , Cameco’s $1.8-billion Cigar Lake project is underway, while BHP Billiton’s massive Jansen project is expected to create 1,900 construction jobs and 1,000 more operational jobs. According to the Saskatchewan Construction Association, the province’s construction labour force has grown by 70% in the last decade, and will need thousands more new workers between now and 2020. An estimated 6,600 Saskatchewan construction workers will be near retirement age before the end of the decade.

Large infrastructure projects in British Columbia, including an $8-billion federal shipbuilding contract and plans for more LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facilities at Kitimat, are already creating trades shortages. The province’s most recent Labour Market Outlook forecast a shortage of 61,500 workers by 2020, while upward of 35,000 foremen and senior managers in the construction sector are scheduled for retirement in the coming years.

Trades in demand
Trades affected by the skills shortage in the western provinces are primarily linked to construction infrastructure and the oil & gas sector, and include:

  • Boilermakers
  • Carpenters
  • Concrete finishers
  • Construction managers and estimators
  • Crane operators
  • Drillers and blasters
  • Electricians
  • Iron workers
  • Heavy equipment operators and mechanics
  • Labourers
  • Plumbers
  • Steamfitters and pipefitters
  • Welders and truck drivers

The government has recently responded to the shortages by announcing changes to the points system to recognise those with skilled trades under the Federal Skilled Worker Program. In recent announcements, it has also raised the possibility of introducing a separate economic stream for skilled tradespeople.

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