Construction: Ontario 2015-2017

Sectoral Profiles provide an overview of recent labour market developments and outlooks for some of the key industries in various regions of the country.

Commercial and heavy engineering projects to propel construction in Ontario

  • Residential building construction to face cautious outlook
  • Commercial sector will drive non‐residential building construction in the medium‐term
  • Employment in the provincial construction industry is expected to grow by 2.2% from 2015 to 2017

Ontario's construction industry had a workforce of 467,300 and accounted for 5.4% of provincial GDP in 2014.Footnote 1 The industry includes businesses engaged in residential and non‐residential building construction, as well as heavy and civil engineering projects.

After nearly continuous gains since 2000, employment in Ontario's construction sector fell sharply in 2009, along with many other industries in the province, due to the economic recession.Footnote 2 Employment quickly bounced back above pre‐recession levels, mainly reflecting jobs created through government stimulus funding in public infrastructure. However, employment growth slowed over the subsequent years as the stimulus projects came to completion, as seen in chart 1 below.

Chart 1: Change in Ontario construction employment, housing starts, building permits, 2005 to 2017
Chart 1: Change in Ontario construction employment, housing starts, building permits, 2005 to 2017
Show data tableChart 1: Change in Ontario construction employment, housing starts, building permits, 2005 to 2017
Chart 1: Change in Ontario construction employment, housing starts, building permits, 2005 to 2017
Year Employment Housing Starts Building permits, value
2005 (Index=100) 100.0 100.0 100.0
2006 101.4 93.2 96.5
2007 102.1 86.5 110.7
2008 108.7 95.3 105.3
2009 104.2 63.9 90.7
2010 111.0 76.7 116.6
2011 114.2 86.1 116.1
2012 115.2 97.4 122.5
2013 115.4 77.5 119.9
2014 117.4 75.0 127.3
2015 122.1 83.3
2016 124.0 82.6
2017 125.3 76.0

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, CANSIM Table 282‐0008; Canada Mortgage and Housing Corportation, Housing Market Outlook, Canada Edition; Statistics Canada, Building Permits Survey, CANSIM Table 026‐0003; Employment and Social Development Canada, Canadian Occupational Projection System Model

Employment demand in the construction industry is seasonal, with a larger share of workers employed during the warmer months when demand is at its peak. The following occupations account for about half of the workforce in the provincial construction industry:

  • Construction trades helpers and labourers (NOC 7611)
  • Carpenters (NOC 7271)
  • Electricians – except industrial and power system (NOC 7241)
  • Construction managers (NOC 0711)
  • Residential home builders and renovators (NOC 0712)
  • Painters and decorators (NOC 7294)
  • Plumbers (NOC 7251)
  • Heavy equipment operators (except crane) (NOC 7421)
  • Residential and commercial installers and servicers (NOC 7441)
  • Plasterers, drywall installers and finishers and lathers (NOC 7284)

Workforce facing generational shift

The construction workforce is poised for a significant generational shift with the looming retirement of many workers,Footnote 3 particularly in the skilled trades, putting pressure on the supply of higher skilled workers such as apprentices. Demand for apprentices is further supported by the passage of the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act in 2015. The Act legislates that those who bid for construction projects for an Ontario public asset must also provide a plan for the intended use of apprentices. Net migration from other provinces and immigration from outside Canada will prove to be an important source of new entries into the industry and expansion in the labour supply over coming years.

Residential building construction to face cautious outlook ahead

The residential sector includes establishments mainly involved in the construction or remodelling and renovation of houses and residential buildings such as condos and apartments. Growth in this sector depends to some extent on population and income growth.

Provincial housing starts decreased in 2013 and 2014, but are expected to improve slightly from 2015 to 2017. Multi‐family buildings such as condos are a popular option in the GTA due to rising prices for single‐detached homes. Rising home prices continue to make the headlines, however, prices are showing signs of slowing over the next couple of years.Footnote 4 As a result, activity in the housing sector may experience cooling in the latter part of the forecast period.

A potentially worrisome trend for residential construction is the elevated ratios of household debt‐to‐income and house price‐to‐income in Ontario,Footnote 5 with its possible implication for a future slowdown in various real estate markets due to affordability issues. Furthermore, the expected rise in the interest rate in the medium term may increase the cost of mortgages, which could further exacerbate affordability issues. These factors contribute to a cautious but positive outlook for the residential sector in the province over 2015 to 2017.

Non‐residential building construction to lead growth

Industrial construction

The industrial construction subsector comprises establishments primarily engaged in the construction of industrial buildings, with the exception of warehouses which are considered part of the commercial sector. The subsector is closely linked to activities in the manufacturing industry, as it includes facilities built for such purposes. Along with manufacturing’s general decline in the share of employment in the province over the past decade, the output from construction in the industrial sector has also been falling.

Growth in the value of building permits issued in the industrial sector has stalled in recent years,Footnote 6 but the sector continues to receive significant investment to upgrade major factories in the province. The most noteworthy projects in the sector included the Chrysler Fiat assembly plant in Windsor undergoing a $2 billion USD renovation which started in spring 2015, while the Honda assembly plant in Alliston is undertaking a 3‐year upgrade project valued at $857 million CAD.

Commercial and institutional construction

The commercial and institutional subsector is composed of establishments primarily engaged in the construction of building such as hotels, shopping centres, warehouses, office buildings and airports, while the institutional sector includes building such as schools, hospitals and libraries.

Growth in the commercial sector depends on a strong retail trade and business sector in the province, as well as a higher propensity for consumption. The growth among large‐scale retailers in busy retail hubs such as downtown Toronto has been one of the main factors pushing growth in the sector over the past decade, while the expansion of the finance industry beyond downtown Toronto into suburban areas is expected to drive investment in the sector. In the medium‐term, the commercial sector is expected to experience steady employment growth.

A large portion of activity in the institutional and governmental sector comes from federal and provincial expenditures on health and education facilities, such as new hospitals and schools. Investment in the sector has declined since 2011.Footnote 7 Due to the goal of balancing government budgets at both the provincial and federal level, investment in infrastructure is expected to remain modest over the forecast period.

Heavy and civil engineering construction will include some of the province’s largest projects over the forecast horizon

The heavy and civil engineering construction subsector includes establishments primarily engaged in building highways, streets and bridges, as well as utility systems (e.g., water, sewer, and power line and related structures). Since growth is often tied to large‐scale private and public investment in provincial infrastructure, it depends on the fiscal policies of various governments and favourable conditions for investment in Ontario. Despite fiscal restraint, some large projects are still planned or underway. Some of the largest construction work in the province over the next two years involves large‐scale light‐rail transit projects in Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston. These developments will provide support to employment in the engineering construction sector over the next few years.

In coming years, electric power engineering will witness a significant amount of new construction output, with the multi‐billion dollar refurbishing work at the Darlington Ontario Power Generation (OPG) nuclear generation station expected to begin in 2016 and last over a decade, while the Bruce Power nuclear station in Tiverton will see refurbishing work later this decade. In addition, other large‐scale projects related to energy production are expected to take place over the forecast period, including the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline and the Napanee Generation Station. Additional energy‐related projects that focus on by‐product management such as Vale’s Cliffs Mine Clean AER project and the OPG Deep Geologic Repository project are also under way, all of which contributes to an overall positive employment outlook for the sector.

Sector Outlook, 2015–2017

Employment in the Ontario construction industry is expected to grow by an annual average of 2.2% from 2015 to 2017.  There will be an increased demand for apprentices, supported by changing regulations and an anticipated turnover in labour supply due to looming retirements among the baby boomer generation.

Housing starts are projected to improve slightly province‐wide over the short‐term, resulting in moderate employment growth in residential building construction. Within non‐residential construction, the commercial sector is likely to see steady employment growth, while expansion in the industrial and the institutional and governmental sectors are contingent on factors such as the recovery of the provincial manufacturing industry and on governmental expenditures.

Sub‐provincial trends

Employment growth in construction is expected to vary by sub‐region in Ontario. In the economic region of Toronto, home prices remain elevated and demand is strong, however there are signs of slowing housing starts over the forecast period. Construction in the commercial sector is a major driver in Toronto due to the concentration of large retailers and office buildings for which demand remains high. In addition, there have been a number of public transit infrastructure projects that have commenced or are already underway, with the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit in Toronto, the Toronto‐York Spadina Subway Extension, the York Viva Bus Rapid Transit rapidways, and the Phase II of Brampton's $285M Züm transit project all significant news related to public transit.

Residential sector demand in the Kitchener‐Waterloo‐Barrie economic region is expected to remain stable over the projection period, with housing starts forecasted at slightly lower levels than those experienced in recent years. In the Hamilton‐Niagara Peninsula economic region, on average, housing starts in 2015 to 2017 remain similar to recent levels. In the Hamilton CMA, levels are expected to be moderately lower than in recent years, and in the St‐Catherine‐Niagara area starts are forecasted to improve. Demand for housing in Windsor and London is also expected to pick up over the forecast period.

In eastern Ontario construction activity has been weak and is expected to continue along this trend, due to less housing demand in Kingston‐Pembroke, Muskoka‐Kawarthas and Stratford‐Bruce Peninsula. However Ottawa may see some recovery in construction employment after a period of weakness, with housing starts trending upward over the forecast period.

The northern regions of Ontario also hold a great amount of promise for the construction industry, with a significant investment in roads announced in 2014. However, demand in the residential sector is expected to decline, with forecasted housing starts trending lower in Thunder Bay and Sudbury over 2015 to 2017. On the non‐residential side, the Northwest economic region is expected to witness infrastructure improvements. The Government of Ontario announced in summer 2014 that it will invest in upgrades to the highway infrastructure in Northwestern Ontario, as well as nearly $14M in funding to improve infrastructure in communities across the region. Other significant projects in the region include the construction on a $106M bridge near Nipigon, which will take close to three years to complete, creating up to 1,000 jobs over the life of the project. These projects will continue to support the high concentration of road construction businesses in the region.


In preparing this document, the authors have taken care to provide clients with labour market information that is timely and accurate at the time of publication. Since labour market conditions are dynamic, some of the information presented here may have changed since this document was published. Users are encouraged to also refer to other sources for additional information on the local economy and labour market. Information contained in this document does not necessarily reflect official policies of Employment and Social Development Canada.

Prepared by: Labour Market and Socio‐economic Information Directorate (LMSID), Service Canada, Ontario
For further information, please contact LMSID at: Footnote NC‐LMI‐IMT‐GD@hrsdc‐


Footnote 1

Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey data, CANSIM Table 282‐0008 and 379‐0030

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Footnote 2

Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 282‐0008

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Footnote 3

Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 102‐4505

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Footnote 4

Canadian Real Estate Association, Quarterly Forecast, September 2015

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Footnote 5

Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 378‐0123

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Footnote 6

Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 026‐0003

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Footnote 7

Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 026‐0016

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