Canada seeks foreign workers from 2013 construction sector

Mr. Chair, the Canadian Construction Association would like to thank you for the opportunity to present here today. Our organization represents the non-residential sector of the construction industry, so we build everything except single-family dwellings. We build Canada’s infrastructure.

Canada seeks foreign workers from 2013. Our industry employs close to 1.3 million Canadians. We’re one of the largest, if not the largest, industrial employers in the country. One out of every 16 working Canadians earns a living in the construction industry. Construction accounts for about 6% of Canada’s GDP, amounting to more than $150 billion worth of economic activity annually.

About 90% to 95% of the construction firms active in the construction industry are small businesses by anybody’s definition. The vast majority of these businesses are Canadian-owned and family businesses.

We have what amounts to a perfect storm challenging our industry. It has to do with labour supply and skills supply. There are two major factors. First, we have unprecedented high demand for construction services, and this is projected to go on for a full decade if not two decades. The Global Construction 2020 report published in March 2011 by Oxford Economics predicts that Canada’s construction market will be the fifth largest in the world by 2020, behind only China, the U.S., India, and Japan. And there are some economists who believe we are going to surpass Japan.

To give you an idea of what that means in output, by 2013 total construction investment in Canada will likely surpass $300 billion, which is double 2004’s total in less than 10 years. Projects are becoming larger and more complex. Because of the high demand coming from the resource sector, there is more work in remote areas, where there isn’t always the infrastructure to support that kind of development.

To give you some idea of what I’m talking about, the magazine ReNew Canada released its 100 top infrastructure projects in Canada. For the first time, the top 30 of those 100 projects were individually valued at $1 billion or more. The top 61 of those infrastructure projects are valued at over $500,000.

The other part of the perfect storm is what’s happening with our demographics. We have an aging workforce. Like most industries in Canada, we’re trying to recruit from an ever-shrinking labour pool due to Canada’s low fertility rate. Canada’s fertility rate is about 1.58, and 2.1 is what the international economists say you need to replace your population on an ongoing basis. Canada’s at 1.58; the United States is at 2.06, almost at replacement; and Mexico’s at 2.3.

Last year was the first year that the baby boomers started turning 65. It just about threw me off my chair to learn that for the next decade more than 1,000 Canadians are expected to retire or reach retirement age every day for the next 10 years. The equivalent stat in the United States is 10,000 people a day.

The Construction Sector Council, in their latest labour market information report, says that our industry is going to need to attract some 319,000 new workers by 2020 just to keep up with demand and to replace those who are going to retire. It projects that about 163,000 of that 319,000 we can get domestically. Domestically, in the trades they’re tracking, we’ll find some coming through the apprenticeship system, some coming through the training system, and some from immigration. But the other 156,000 are going to have to come from outside the industry or outside Canada.