Few people know that the Canadian construction industry is the fifth-largest construction market in the world, producing nearly 7% of Canada’s GDP and employing over 1.3 million Canadians (that’s 1 out of every 14 working Canadians, for those keeping score at home).
Today, the construction industry in Canada is changing dramatically as a result of a number of key developments and trends. Curious where it’s headed? Here are five of the most notable Canadian construction trends to watch in 2019 and beyond.
1. Industry slowdown
Unlike the U.S., construction activity in Canada has been slowing down over the last decade. It’s now expected to plateau following two decades of almost uninterrupted growth, during which the workforce doubled.
According to GlobalData, “The Canadian construction industry registered minimal growth in 2018, with output expanding by 0.6% in real terms — down from 4.3% in 2017. The industry’s output value, measured at constant 2017 US dollar exchange rates, increased from US$289.5 billion in 2017 to US$291.2 billion in 2018.”
The sharp deceleration in construction activity was mainly driven by declines in residential construction. Overall, the industry posted negative growth during the review period (2014-2018), registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.29% in real terms.
2. Shortage of workers
The Business Development Bank of Canada recently singled out construction as one of the industries facing the most pressing shortage of workers. 48% of construction firms surveyed said it had been difficult to hire new workers over the past 12 months.
For one thing, young workers simply aren’t entering the construction industry at the same rate that people are retiring. According to BuildForce Canada, there’s an impending retirement of 250,000 aging builders over the next decade — about 21% of the current workforce. BuiltForce Canada predicts that the construction industry will need to find 322,000 new workers by 2024 just to keep pace with demand and replace retirees.
3. Focus on workplace diversity
In response to the growing labor shortage, the Canadian construction industry is working hard to better integrate a diverse set of workers both in the office and on the job site. Companies have been appealing to a larger cross-section of people — including women, visible minorities, First Nations, and youth — to sell them on careers in the construction industry. This initiative has also been supported at a federal level, with funding specifically allocated to entice more women into traditionally male-dominated construction roles.
Sentiment about growing diversity in construction is positive, especially for women. A few years ago, the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) surveyed the general needs and challenges of women and employers working in the Canadian construction industry. Of the 60 women asked to complete a survey, more than 85% said they would recommend working in construction to other women, indicating optimism about their inclusion and a distinct sense of belonging in the industry.
4. Investment in infrastructure
The Canadian government’s planned investments in infrastructure are expected to continue to support the growth of the construction industry in the coming years, according to GlobalData. Under the “Investing in Canada Plan,” the government plans to invest a total of US$139 billion in key infrastructure sectors through 2028.
Infrastructure projects being supported include the $105 million in support of VIA Rail Canada’s operations and capital projects for two years; about $5.2 billion to refresh the Canadian Coast Guard fleet through 2023; about $100 million to restore and modernize the Esquimalt Graving Dock over five years; and $27 million to support the divestiture of regional ports.
5. Adoption of technology
As a result of the growing complexity and remoteness of large-scale Canadian construction projects, the industry is also investing in new technologies and more innovative approaches, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), Lean Construction, prefabrication, and modularization.
According to the Telus Business report, “Workplace Transformation Survey: Aligning People, Process, and Technology in the Digital Era,” over half of Canadian construction organizations are in the process of implementing new technology. Telus found that medium-sized Canadian businesses are currently making their three largest investments in automating key processes (72%), increasing the availability of employees (70%), and reducing their physical footprint (69%).
The construction industry is rapidly changing — both in Canada and beyond. As one of the largest construction markets in the world, it’s crucial to keep a pulse on what’s happening in Canada and how it relates to the bigger picture of global construction.