Despite persistent challenges, BC’s construction industry is booming.
According to findings from the annual BC Construction Association (BCCA) Industry Survey, the industry is experiencing a 79% increase in the value of current projects from five years ago and a 17% increase from pre-pandemic levels. This is despite both labour shortages and the fact that the cost of goods are at all-time highs.
While the province has seen an increase in project spending to $134B and a notable increase in the number of construction companies in BC (there are now 26,262), the number of employees in the industry has dropped across all trend milestones, reports the BCCA. The province has seen a 2% decrease year over year, a 9% decrease compared to pre-pandemic levels (2019), and a 5% decrease against the five-year marker. Furthermore, the average company size has decreased 7% over the last five years to an average of 6.53 workers. Approximately 90% of companies in the industry employ fewer than 20 workers.
In response, the construction industry is throwing money at the problem. Annual construction wages have seen a significant rise of 14% since 2015 to $66,591, reflecting an 8% increase since pre-pandemic levels alone.
Of those who are employed in the construction industry, nearly 100% are working full time, 84% year-round, and half are earning a higher wage than last year. Nearly 37% of the survey respondents report taking a new job for more pay this year, and 41% have worked for two or more employers. The construction industry remains the number one employer in BC’s goods sector, with 215,133 British Columbians relying directly on construction for a paycheque. That figure is down 2% since 2017, but still larger than any other goods-producing sector.
Aerial image of the West Shore, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Compared to the past, workers are also getting more skilled, says the BCCA. Of those surveyed, 76% of respondents reported they are fully credentialed and are 12% working on their ticket.
An Evolving Industry
The demographics in the industry are also shifting. More women are receiving subsidized training and mentorship than men, and the number of companies with diversity policies in place has risen to 84% from 62% just a few years ago. At least 17% of the projected skills gap has been filled by tradeswomen, who are now 5.7% of the skilled workforce and 5.5 times more likely to recommend the trades as a career path. A disturbing trend, however, is a steep decrease in their likelihood to recommend construction as a career path, citing key operations issues, notes BCCA.
Marking a departure from last year, when COVID-19 was a top issue of concern in the industry (it appeared #3 in the list last year), the pandemic is no longer cited as a major worry in the industry. However, lack of prompt payment, workforce shortages, and eroding public sector procurement standards keep stress levels high. Contractors are less likely to bid on public sector projects even as the province announces record-level spending, with 20% of respondents reporting they are less likely to bid on tax-payer funded projects.
The construction industry’s contribution to BC’s economy is undeniable. Its contribution to the province’s GDP is up a whopping 22%, growing from $18.8B in 2017 to $23B today. Estimated value of current major construction projects underway in B.C.: $134B (five-year trend: Up 79%)
“Construction is an essential and highly dynamic industry that is affected by events next door and around the world” says Chris Atchison, BCCA President. “Whether its pandemic, floods, fires, war, supply chain, or government policy, our industry adapts to reflect those challenges. With the unprecedented commitment of tax dollars to infrastructure spending and a boom in large private projects, employers are looking for leadership from government on two major issues that will improve industry conditions for all contractors and workers regardless of labour affiliation: prompt payment legislation and mandatory public sector procurement best practises.”
Based on current trends, the number of construction jobs in BC that will be left unfilled due to labour shortages by 2027 will hit 5,653, says BCCA.
Meanwhile, in Ontario, the construction industry is also experiencing an undeniable boom, despite the current state of the economy. A report released last month by the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) reveals that the construction industry is driving economic recovery in Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). However, the report also revealed that Ontario wasn't without its own challenges on the construction front. Most notably, the relentless housing crisis is slowing the construction of new homes in the pricey province.
But, like Vancouver, Ontario is experiencing its own labour shortage in the construction industry. A report from BuildForce Canada warns that the province's construction industry will face a massive shortage of skilled labour over the next ten years -- compounded by the fact that many industry professionals are set to retire -- and many construction projects will have trouble finding the workers they need.
So, if anyone is job hunting...