Alberta Sector Profile: Construction

Highlights

  • In 2021, one in ten workers in Alberta worked in the construction sector. The sector contributed $23.6 billion (8.0%) to the province's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • More than half of the sector's employment was in the trade contracting sub-sector (54.8%), with another 30.8% employed in building construction and 14.4% in heavy and civil engineering construction.
  • Major oil and gas investments, including pipeline expansions, billion-dollar renewable energy-related construction projects, as well as government infrastructure investments provide a positive employment outlook for the sector.

Provincial Overview

In 2021, there were about 222,200 people employed within the construction sector in Alberta, representing 10.0% of total provincial employment. Of these, 121,800 (54.8%) were employed in the trade contracting sub-sector, 68,400 (30.8%) in construction of buildings and 31,900 (14.4%) in heavy and civil engineering construction. Most workers in the construction sector were employed on a full-time basis – 203,600 or 91.6%. [1] The construction sector contributed 8.0% of the province's total GDP in 2021. [2]

Charts showing sector employment and GDP statistics in 2021

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey; Statistics Canada Table: 36-10-0402-01 (GDP at basic prices, chained 2012 dollars); Statistics Canada Table: 36-10-0400-01 (GDP at basic prices, current dollars)

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In 2021, the sector contributed to:

  • 10% of provincial employment
  • $23.6B of provincial Gross Domestic Product
  • 8% of the province's total GDP

Employment in Alberta's construction sector is dominated by males – 84% vs 16% of females. This is especially the case in the trades (86% vs. 14%) and heavy and civil engineering construction (85% vs. 15%) sub-sectors. [3] In 2021, 27% of construction workers were self-employed. This compares to 19% for the goods-producing sector. Jobs in the construction sector tend to be seasonal, with almost half (49%) of the employed working part year, compared to 43% for all sectors. Construction workers in Alberta tend to earn higher wages than their peers in other western provinces. In 2021, the median hourly construction wage in Alberta was $32.00/hour, highest among the western provinces and higher than the national median hourly construction wage ($30.00/hour). Among the province's seven economic regions, construction employment was mostly concentrated in Edmonton (39%) and Calgary (36%), while Camrose – Drumheller (4%) and Wood Buffalo – Cold Lake (3%) had the lowest shares. [4]

Charts showing sector employment distribution in 2021

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, ESDC custom table

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Of those employed in 2021:

  • 27% were self-employed
  • 16% were female, 84% were male
  • Employment distribution by age
    • 15-24 years: 10%
    • 25-54 years: 71%
    • 55+ years: 19%

Indigenous people in Alberta are more likely to choose construction as a career choice. In 2021, 13.5% of employed Indigenous people had jobs in construction, compared to 9.8% of employed non-Indigenous Canadians. [5] Immigrants also make up a significant share of the construction workforce, accounting for 18.5% of employment in 2021, representing a 6.9 percentage point increase over the past decade. [6]

Sector Trends

Construction sector employment declined 7.4% (-17,100) between 2019 and 2020, dropping to 214,000 — the lowest it had been since 2010. The trade contracting sub-sector suffered most job losses for this period (-21,400 or -16%). In addition, the unemployment rate increased from 9.1% in 2019 to 12.5% in 2020 as construction projects paused during the early stages of the pandemic.

Line graph showing sector employment from 2011 to 2021

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, ESDC custom table

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Construction Employment

Year Employment (Total) Full-time Part-time
2011 219,800 206,800 13,000
2012 235,200 219,900 15,300
2013 240,000 225,200 14,900
2014 253,300 238,600 14,700
2015 255,300 241,200 14,100
2016 245,000 226,400 18,500
2017 235,400 220,600 14,800
2018 237,600 218,400 19,300
2019 231,100 215,900 15,100
2020 214,000 197,800 16,300
2021 222,200 203,600 18,600

Note: Figures shown are employment estimates. Totals may not add to 100% due to rounding.

In 2021, the construction sector showed strong signs of recovery, supported by a significant rise in new-housing construction (+27% compared to 2020); and record low interest rates. An uptick in employment was also buoyed by a modest growth in non-residential construction driven by recovered oil and gas price and investment; industrial maintenance work; and public-sector projects. More than half of the construction jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered and the unemployment rate for this sector was cut by almost half to 6.8% in 2021.

Line graph showing subsector employment from 2011 to 2021

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, ESDC custom table

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Subsector Employment

Year Construction of
Buildings
Heavy and Civil
Engineering Construction
Trade Contracting
2011 46,300 38,800 134,700
2012 54,400 39,900 140,900
2013 60,300 39,700 140,000
2014 66,200 43,900 143,100
2015 69,100 42,200 143,900
2016 60,600 37,600 146,800
2017 60,400 38,600 136,500
2018 60,700 39,700 137,200
2019 58,000 39,400 133,600
2020 66,300 35,500 112,200
2021 68,400 31,900 121,800

Note: Figures shown are employment estimates

The positive momentum in the construction sector continued into 2022 as a number of high profile projects broke grounds this year. In May, Vinci Infrastructure Canada Ltd. began construction on the $744 million Springbank off-stream reservoir project. The project should create more than 2,200 jobs. [7] In March, the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta announced matching contributions of $390 million each over four years to implement the provincial Broadband Strategy. [8] The strategy, set to expand rural high-speed internet infrastructure around the province, should generate up to 1,500 jobs during infrastructure deployment. [9]

Renewable energy projects will also spur job growth in the construction sector as Canada strives to meet its climate targets. Business Renewables Centre Canada, a coalition of renewable energy companies, expects there will be $3.7 billion worth of renewable energy construction projects in Alberta by 2023, along with the creation of 4,500 jobs. [10]

While the province's construction sector can expect job growth in the near term, acute labour shortages will likely persist. In summer 2022, homebuilders across the province dealt with a surge in housing starts along with a shortage of workers and supply chain issues, leading to some project delays. [11] In September, the Calgary Construction Association (CCA) said it was continuing to see strong demand for employees across a range of trades although fully qualified workers and apprentices were in short supply. The CCA is currently working with the Province to address the problem through its Jobs Now and Alberta at Work programs. [12]

The Pathways Alliance, a coalition of oil sands companies, expects its $12 billion planned investment in carbon capture and storage projects to strain Alberta's labour force. The construction phase is projected to require tens of thousands of workers between 2025 and 2030. [13]

Employment Outlook

Following a strong rebound in 2021, Alberta's construction market demands are expected to continue growing into 2022 before plateauing. [14] Residential construction should remain strong in 2022. By the first half of the year, housing starts were 28% higher (year-to-date) than last year. [15] Between 2023 and 2024, residential construction activities are expected to cool down as interest rate hikes raise prices and lower housing demand. While investment in residential construction is expected to increase to 10.61% in 2022, much smaller growth is anticipated for 2023 (+1.2%) and 2024 (+1.5%). [16] Housing starts are projected to increase by 8.6% in 2022 and then decline 7.6% in 2023 and down another 3.2% in 2024. [17] Overall, residential construction employment should increase by 3% in 2022 and decline 10% (-5,760 workers) through the next five years, while still remaining above pre-pandemic levels. [18]

Over the medium term, employment increases in Alberta's construction sector will be sustained and driven by non-residential construction. Billions of dollars are expected to be spent in 2022-2024 and beyond on several renewable energy-related construction projects including wind and solar farms. The construction of three petrochemical facilities between 2023 and 2026, representing close to $8 billion in new investment will boost non-residential construction employment. [19] The Northern Petrochemical Corporation's $2.5 billion carbon-neutral ammonia and methanol production project in Greenview will create more than 4,000 jobs during the construction phase, and 400 permanent jobs after completion. [20]

Health care, education services, pipeline, transit, renewable energy, and other key infrastructure projects should help sustain construction employment. The Province's 2021 Capital Plan, set to invest about $21 billion in the construction of new roads, schools and hospitals over a three-year period will support 50,000 direct and 40,000 indirect jobs. [21] These major projects along with strong investment in oil and gas and renewable energy, should raise total employment in non-residential construction by more than 6,100 (+5.6%) over the next six years. [22]

While employment prospects in the sector remain positive, the challenge of finding workers persists. The job vacancy rate in construction, which only averaged 2.5% prior to the pandemic, was up from 5.8% to 7.4% between Q1 and Q2 2022, adding 3,525 more job openings. [23] The sector continues to be male-dominated, and attracting women and workers from underrepresented groups such as Indigenous people and newcomers remains a struggle and further limits the pool of potential workers. The sector's workforce is also aging, with 22,700 workers expected to retire between 2022 and 2027. About 23,000 new-entrant workers under the age of 30 need to be recruited locally over the same period to moderate labour force pressures. [24]

Overall, employment growth in Alberta's construction sector will be modest over the medium term, rising by about 2,400 (+1.4%) workers in the next five years. In the short-term (2022-24), most construction jobs will be in non-residential construction with employment growth in industrial construction (+25%), commercial, institutional and government (+6%), and heavy and other engineering (+4%). [25]

Occupation of Interest: Construction Trades Helpers and Labourers

Construction trades helpers and labourers assist skilled tradespersons and perform labouring activities at construction sites, in quarries and in surface mines. They are employed by construction companies, trade and labour contractors, and surface mine and quarry operators.

Line graph showing occupational employment from 2011 to 2021

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, ESDC custom table

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Occupational Employment

Year Employment
2011 23,100
2012 20,800
2013 22,300
2014 22,500
2015 20,900
2016 17,600
2017 15,500
2018 19,500
2019 14,700
2020 16,100
2021 15,000

Note: Figures shown are employment estimates

Given the seasonal nature of construction jobs, only 36.2% of trades helpers and labourers in Alberta work a full year. This compares to an average of 56.4% for all occupations. Of those employed in 2021, 86.7% worked full time. Construction trades helpers and labourers in Alberta earn a median wage of $22.00/hour, a higher median wage than those working in the three other western provinces. In Alberta, the median wage for this occupation is highest in the Calgary, Red Deer, and Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake regions at $25.00/hour, and significantly more than the national median hourly wage for this occupation ($21.00/hour). [26] To be employed as a construction trades helper, some general construction labourer experience may be required; and as a pipeline worker, one season of experience in oil and gas pipeline construction is typically required.

The employment outlook for construction trades helpers and labourers in Alberta is good for 2022 and 2023. Additional occupational information can be found here.

Endnotes

  1. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey ESDC Custom table.

  2. Statistics Canada. Table 36-10-0402-01 Gross domestic product (GDP) at basic prices, by industry, provinces and territories; Table 36-10-0400 Gross domestic product (GDP) at basic prices, by industry, provinces and territories, percentage share.

  3. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey ESDC Custom table.

  4. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey ESDC Custom table.

  5. Statistics Canada. ESDC custom table – Employment by Aboriginal identity, detailed industry, sex, age group, Canada, province, annual averages.

  6. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey ESDC Custom table.

  7. Government of Alberta (May 5, 2022). Construction on Springbank Reservoir begins.

  8. Edmonton Journal (March 9, 2022). Feds match Alberta's $390M pledge for improved high-speed internet.

  9. Government of Alberta (March 2, 2022). Connecting Albertans, growing the economy.

  10. The Narwhal (June 14, 2022). Alberta renewable energy surge could power 4,500 jobs.

  11. CBC News (June 21, 2022). Housing activity jumps to 2015 levels in Alberta as oil prices surge.

  12. Calgary Herald (September 13, 2022). Calgary construction industry sees job growth despite provincial losses.

  13. BNN Bloomberg (September 19, 2022). Oil Sands Carbon-Capture Goals May Strain Alberta Labor Force.

  14. BuildForce Canada (2022). “Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward: An Assessment of Construction Labour Markets from 2022 to 2027.” Accessed October 3, 2022.

  15. Statistics Canada (July 18, 2022). Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, housing starts, under construction and completions, all areas, quarterly.

  16. Conference Board of Canada. Forging forward despite risks: Alberta's three-year outlook. Accessed October 4, 2022.

  17. Ibid.

  18. BuildForce Canada (2022). “Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward: An Assessment of Construction Labour Markets from 2022 to 2027.” Accessed October 3, 2022.

  19. Conference Board of Canada. Forging forward despite risks: Alberta's three-year outlook. Accessed October 4, 2022.

  20. On-Site Construction Forecast 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.

  21. Ibid.

  22. BuildForce Canada (2022). “Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward: An Assessment of Construction Labour Markets from 2022 to 2027.” Accessed October 3, 2022.

  23. Statistics Canada (September 9, 2022). Job vacancies, payroll employees, job vacancy rate, and average offered hourly wage by industry sector, quarterly, unadjusted for seasonality.

  24. BuildForce Canada (2022). “Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward: An Assessment of Construction Labour Markets from 2022 to 2027.” Accessed October 3, 2022.

  25. Ibid.

  26. ESDC Job Bank. Wages for Construction trades helpers and labourers. Accessed October 6, 2022.

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