British Columbia

Construction booms in B.C., as skilled worker shortage grows

'It is an unprecedented time in British Columbia in terms of large projects,' says construction association

Clare Hennig - CBC News

September 29, 2017

Construction is booming across the province from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland to Interior B.C. and there is roughly $325 billion worth of proposed projects in the works. (Getty Images)

The construction industry is booming across British Columbia and while a record-breaking number of projects are underway, there is a growing shortage of skilled workers to do them.

Close to a third of a trillion dollars worth of construction projects are on the books and about $75 billion of those are currently underway in the province.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chris Atchison, the president of the B.C. Construction Association, said he has never seen anything like it before.

"It is an unprecedented time in British Columbia in terms of large projects,"  Atchison told CBC host of Daybreak South Chris Walker. "It's just a staggering number … [and] it's compounding that shortage of skilled workforce."

The construction association estimates there will be 15,000 unfilled construction jobs because of the growing labour shortage in the coming years. A lack of workers drives up prices and will affect both the province's economic growth and individual British Columbians looking to purchase homes, Walker said.

Residential construction makes up roughly 65 per cent of spending in B.C., Central 1 Credit Union estimates. Atchison said part of what is driving the construction boom is the demand for housing and a growing population.  

"More and more people are choosing this entire province — not just specific regions, but this entire province — as both a place to move to and invest in," he said. "That's going to continue to drive up the need for infrastructure spending and the need for investment."

Planning for the future

In B.C.'s Interior, Atchison said, major projects like the Penticton hospital, numerous winery projects and airport improvements are drawing skilled workers from other areas in the province and spreading the available labour thin.

He said there needs to be better planning for labour procurement in the coming years, as further construction projects get underway.  

"We definitely want to make sure that there is coordinated efforts to stagger or plan for these projects."

One solution, Atchison said, is to promote the construction industry to the labour market. He emphasized the low unemployment rate in the industry — roughly four per cent — and average yearly wages over $58,000.  

"We need to do a bit better job reaching out and attracting some of our traditionally under-represented groups to the sector and making sure that we can fill those [construction] needs," he said.

With files from Daybreak South

Start the day smarter
Get the CBC News Morning Brief, the essential news you need delivered to your inbox