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Canadian province needs workers in construction industry as population grows by 200,000 residents

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Alberta, a province in Canada is witnessing a labor shortage in  skilled trades in the construction industry.

This is due to its rapid population growth, which added over 200,000 new residents last year, and is putting significant strain on the construction industry to expand infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and housing.

Similarly, according to a forecast by The BuildForce Canada Alberta’s construction industry will need to replace an estimated 42,500 workers or 23% of its 2023 labour force, who are expected to retire by 2033.

The challenge is felt nationwide but is particularly acute in Alberta as it races to meet the increasing demands for infrastructure development.

“It’s literally the No. 1 issue on everyone’s mind,” according to Independent Contractors and Businesses Association Alberta president Mike Martens.

“From the sewage lines underneath the water treatment plants to the roads, bridges, hospitals — all these things that really create the amazing life we have in North America is old infrastructure”.

“We’ve taken it for granted, and now it’s needing fixing, and we don’t have the people available to fix it”, he said. 

Industry forecasts

Data from Statistics Canada reveals that Alberta’s construction job vacancy rate soared to 6.7% in the third quarter of 2023, a stark increase compared to the maximum 3.5% vacancy rate observed in the five years prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Senior Vice President at the Edmonton-based Abalone Group of Companies, a civil construction firm

Gary Zeitner said,

“We have an asset base of equipment that would allow us to do much more work than we’ve done in the last five years, but we simply can’t get the labour force that would be able to make use of all of that equipment.”

“Operating the excavators and other equipment involved in the company’s work requires experience, and that takes time and on-the-job training”.

“Our core group has come back, and we’ve got very few other people that we’ve needed to hire this year so far….and we would be needing to almost double our workforce … it would be challenging, that’s for sure.”

Skilled trades needed in Alberta

Alberta’s construction sector is facing complexities due to its significant involvement in the industrial work, predominantly within the energy sector.

Reports highlighted that this scenario intensifies the competition for a limited number of skilled workers, as industrial projects often offer higher salaries. Prominent undertakings like the Dow Chemical plant and the Air Products hydrogen plant in the Edmonton area significantly absorb the workforce.

The provincial government has therefore increased funding for post-secondary apprenticeship programs, leading to higher enrolment numbers. However, even as new workers enter the market, it will take time for them to acquire the necessary experience, especially as the sector anticipates a major wave of retirements.

How Alberta is targeting potential workers

The “Alberta is Calling” campaign has launched its latest phase, aiming to attract workers from Quebec, Ontario, and B.C.

This campaign offers a $5,000 refundable tax credit as an incentive for individuals to move to Alberta and work in one of 55 designated high-demand skilled trades until the end of 2024, provided they stay in the province for at least a year.

While these measures are seen as positive by industry leaders, they acknowledge that such initiatives do not offer quick fixes to the looming challenges. The Alberta Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association is advocating for more consistent funding for public infrastructure projects.

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