It’s well-known by now that Canada’s economy made it through 2008 without experiencing the kind of catastrophic slowdown that the U.S. saw — although whether that’s a sign of strength or a still-impending doom remains controversial. What’s certain is that Canada’s housing market, in particular, remains red-hot, with housing starts and prices continuing to rise rapidly, as this article from The Globe And Mail shows. And with an ongoing increase in construction comes a steady need for skilled trades workers in a variety of roles. We looked into EMSI’s Canada data to get an idea of just how well Canada’s construction industry is doing, as well as what kinds of jobs it’s creating.
National and City-by-City Trends
The first thing to point out is that, nationwide, Canada’s construction industry is doing very well indeed, both on its own terms and in comparison to the U.S. From 2008 to 2013, the broadly defined construction sector has grown from 1,189,680 to 1,307,781 jobs, an impressive increase of over 10%. Within the construction sector, several specific industries are doing even better, as this chart comparing their year-over-year percentage growth to that of the sector as a whole indicates:
Those figures reflect the nationwide trend. As with most of the Canadian economy, the bulk of the nation’s construction growth is concentrated in major cities; about 1,071,000 of the total construction jobs in 2013 were found in CMAs, which shows that while the financial impact of the tar sands may be affecting construction indirectly, the work it creates there remains city-based. Of Canada’s major cities, several have grown in excess of 10%.
Residential and Non-Residential Construction
Within the broader construction sector, the two main sub-industries are residential and non-residential construction. Both types of construction showed strong growth nationwide from ’08 to ’13 (12% and 20%, respectively, or 27,000 and 16,000 new jobs). Residential construction was especially strong in Toronto, up 21%; Ottawa-Gatineau, also up 21%; Quebec City, up 33%; and Winnipeg, up an eye-opening 42%. Despite the fervor with which Alberta’s urban economies are often described, Calgary and Edmonton both saw relatively little change; Calgary was up by only 7%, while Edmonton’s residential construction job market actually declined by 8%.
Non-residential construction, however, was a different story. Edmonton’s non-residential construction sector grew by 22%, and Calgary’s by 89%. Quebec City’s non-residential sector was almost as strong as its residential sector, up 27%. Toronto and Ottawa, however, lagged behind in non-residential construction, up only 14% and 10%, respectively. The chart below compares the 10 main CMAs’ growth in residential and non-residential construction jobs.
Self-Employment vs. Employment
Here’s a pop quiz: if the construction industry in an economy grows, will that lead to more jobs for employees or for the self-employed? The prevalence of independent contractors might lead you to choose self-employment as the big winner from a construction boom, or at to assume similar trends for employees and self-employed construction workers — and in the U.S. you’d be right, although the trend there isn’t down but up. In the US, the construction sector as a whole (NAICS 23) has declined by 16% since 2008, while self-employment in that sector has declined by 14%. In other words, self-employed construction workers have been somewhat more likely to hang on to their jobs than employees.
In Canada, however, the story is precisely the opposite. Nationwide, self-employment represents 367,005 of Canada’s construction jobs. That’s an impressive portion of the total 1,257,082 jobs. In fact, at 29.2% of the workforce, self-employment is more important to Canada’s construction sector than it is to the U.S., where self-employment accounts for only 18.7% of construction. The difference is, in the U.S. self-employment has kept pace with regular employment as construction has changed. In Canada, however, construction employment has increased by 14.6% since 2008, while self-employment has increased at an anemic 2.1%.
Skilled Trades Essential To Construction’s Growth
Industries, of course, are built on the growth of the different occupations that staff them. Focusing on the staffing patterns for residential and non-residential construction together, the main story is the growth of skilled trades. While the catch-all classification of residential home builders and renovators was the most-improved occupation in the staffing pattern group, with over 23,000 new jobs, other trades saw significant growth. Plasterers, drywall installers, and finishers and lathers grew by 7%. Heavy equipment operators grew 10%. Painters and decorators added 11%, and welders added 13%, while plumbers grew by 26% and ironworkers by 52%. Interestingly, the number of carpenters employed in the industry group declined significantly, down by 6%. Generally speaking though, residential and non-residential saw increased employment for a wide range of trades.
That growth within the industry group also tended to be representative of growth in the overall economy. A few trades, like steamfitters, carpenters, and bricklayers, saw declining employment. But as the table below shows, many trades have ridden the wave of construction growth in Canada to significantly increased employment. All that remains now is for Canada to ensure that skilled workers are available to fill the new positions.
Canada-Wide Employment: Selected Skilled Trades Occupations, 2008-2013
Description 2008 Jobs 2013 Jobs Change % Change
Source: Employees & Self-Employed - EMSI 2013.3
Residential home builders and renovators 96,516 123,795 27,279 28%
Plumbers 39,932 46,517 6,585 16%
Steamfitters, pipefitters and sprinkler system installers 25,696 24,132 (1,564) (6%)
Carpenters 142,474 127,180 (15,294) (11%)
Bricklayers 16,627 14,105 (2,522) (15%)
Concrete finishers 12,278 13,795 1,517 12%
Tilesetters 8,376 8,663 287 3%
Plasterers, drywall installers and finishers and lathers 32,435 31,747 (688) (2%)
Roofers and shinglers 20,450 22,628 2,178 11%
Insulators 7,214 10,277 3,063 42%
Painters and decorators 47,747 46,594 (1,153) (2%)
Floor covering installers 15,053 20,308 5,255 35%
Electricians (except industrial and power system) 84,102 91,674 7,572 9%
Industrial electricians 30,470 27,086 (3,384) (11%)
Sheet metal workers 21,330 18,900 (2,430) (11%)
Ironworkers 12,757 16,880 4,123 32%
Welders and related machine operators 107,106 102,372 (4,734) (4%)
Heavy-duty equipment mechanics 56,781 60,421 3,640 6%
Heavy equipment operators (except crane) 85,669 87,076 1,407 2%
Construction trades helpers and labourers 116,642 129,926 13,284 11%
Total 979,653 1,024,075 44,422 5%