The new normal: Alberta construction, housing industries facing challenges during economic recovery

Shifting economic winds are blowing in Alberta, with new economic forecasts detailing which sectors of the construction industry will lose, gain and recruit skilled workers.

Even though the province saw significant job gains in the final quarter of last year, BuildForce Canada says Alberta’s oilsands are expected to shed as many as 5,200 construction jobs through 2019.

An industry outlook released Wednesday by BuildForce is predicting some of those job losses will be absorbed by other areas of the construction industry, such as maintenance, restoration and renovation projects.

“It’s going to be an incredibly busy spring,” said Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada. “As the economy starts to recover you’re going to start seeing some increase in demand.”

As major oil and gas projects slow down, Ferreira said residential, non-residential and infrastructure projects will provide some employment opportunities for tradespeople as the energy sector bounces back.

Changes to the workforce

The economic forecast looked at projected construction industry trends through 2027, with BuildForce expecting more than 38,000 new skilled workers to enter the job market in that time.

But with an estimated 19 per cent of the current labour force — some 40,000 workers — expected to retire in the same period, Ferreira says employers should start focusing on recruiting and retaining tradespeople to avoid a “skills gap.”

“What we’re trying to do is provide employers in the construction industry a reasonable idea of what they can expect,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira said the housing market saw significant recovery in 2017 thanks to the improved economic conditions and the rebuilding effort in Fort McMurray.

The report says combined new residential and renovation job growth “should add a modest six per cent, or 4,500 jobs” by 2021, restoring residential construction employment to levels not seen since 2014.

“Right now it’s a bit of a strange period because much of this will be determined by global energy prices, reinvestment in oil and gas,” Ferreira said, adding he doesn’t expect any major investment in oilsands construction projects until at least 2024.

Employment numbers ‘still below peak levels’

Trends in Alberta’s housing market could play a big role if the residential, maintenance and renovation sectors are expected to pick up the unemployment slack in the construction industry.

The Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) also released its 2018 Calgary economic and housing outlook, which says Alberta’s housing market this year will stay relatively unchanged from 2017, despite predicting more than 11,000 new residential builds to break ground this year.

CREB says improved economic conditions are helping pull up the housing market, particularly in the multi-family sector, but rising interest rates and changes in lending requirements are counteracting some of those changes.

“Now we’re looking at more modest-paced growth, and modest recovery in the overall housing market,” said Ann-Marie Lurie, CREB’s chief economist.

With an increase in the number of new builds starting this year, coupled with a possible long-term influx of workers into the residential and renovation markets, Lurie says wages and construction costs could see decreases.

“If we look at employment in construction, those numbers are still below peak levels,” Lurie said.

“So there still hasn’t necessarily been job growth in that area, and what that’s doing is that puts some limits on wage growth, particularly for construction workers.”

The report says there are more than 30,000 fewer jobs in the “primary industries and utilities, construction and manufacturing” sectors compared with pre-recession numbers, with “modest job growth and net migration” expected to continue in 2018.

“It’s not a sprint, so it’s going to take a long time for things to filter through,” Lurie said. “But a lot of those signs of transition are there and that’s really what’s important.”

 

Source: Calgary Herald

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