Today’s construction industry in Canada, is changing dramatically as a result of a number of key developments and trends.  The challenges it faces, however, pale in comparison to the tremendous opportunities it will provide for Canada and all Canadians.

The construction industry has been experiencing unprecedented activity for some time now spurred by resource/commodity-based projects, large transportation projects, and the pressing need to restore and expand Canada’s aging public infrastructure.  Total construction investment in Canada in 2014 is projected to be over $300 billion. Just a decade ago that figure was almost half, at $154 billion. 

Increasing demand for employment 

This enhanced activity is also readily apparent from the sizeable employment growth the industry has seen. The construction industry has added 600,000 new workers since 1996 alone.  An employment growth rate of 86 percent!

The lack of available skilled and experienced construction workers to keep pace with this unprecedented demand and the increasing number of retirements due to the aging demographic, are major challenges.  BuildForce Canada says the construction industry will need to find some 322,000 new workers by 2024, just to keep pace with demand and to replace retirees in the intervening period.

For the longer term, attracting more youth and traditionally under-represented Canadians, (e.g. women and aboriginals), to careers in the construction industry must be a constant priority.  But attracting them is only part of the challenge.  Ensuring the industry`s training infrastructure is firing on all cylinders and that there are clear career pathways for these new industry entrants are priorities that must continue to be addressed.  

Increasing value of construction projects

In addition to record demand, the industry is also seeing individual projects becoming much larger. ReNew Canada magazine annually publishes the top 100 public infrastructure projects underway in Canada.  These are government projects so they do not include petrochemical or mining projects.  The top 52 projects on this year’s list were each individually valued at $1 billion or more.  A new record!

“The industry-at-large has developed a much greater appetite for new technologies and innovative approaches.”

As a result of capacity challenges and the growing complexity and remoteness of many of these projects and similar ones in the resource sector, the industry-at-large has developed a much greater appetite for new technologies and innovative approaches.  Building Information Modeling (BIM), Lean Construction, pre-fabrication and modularization are all making significant in-roads.  In addition, more collaborative delivery methodologies such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) will certainly be more seriously considered. 

Other trends and challenges include the need to address green building and sustainability.  More and more environmental and sustainability issues are routinely part of modern design and construction approaches and techniques, simply because they make sense both in terms of broad public policy as well as the bottom-line. 

Finally, workplace health and safety remain a top priority of the construction industry.  For an industry that is facing capacity challenges in terms of available experienced and skilled workers and supervisory personnel, and that is characterized by an aging workforce, the health and safety of that workforce becomes a paramount pre-occupation.