Despite downturn, construction industry eyes looming worker shortfall

The construction industry in Alberta has been hit hard by the recent downturn, but it's already focusing on new projects and how to deal with a looming worker shortage.

Building permits are down from this time last year, but an aging workforce could take its toll

Bill Black, the chair of the Calgary Construction Association board, says multifamily construction could be a hot sector of the industry this year. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The construction industry in Alberta has been hit hard by the recent downturn, but it's already focusing on new projects and how to deal with a looming worker shortage. 

Citing Alberta government and ATB Financial statistics, the Calgary Construction Association says overall building permits in the province were down 13 per cent in January when compared with the same time last year. 

Most of that slowdown is in the residential sector.

Despite that, the industry group says that over the next 10 years it is facing a shortfall of 40,000 skilled workers due to retirements and slowing population growth. 

"We are looking forward to working with all of our education partners to enhance opportunities for those up-and-comers in the construction industry and are encouraging all of our members to engage and train those who are just getting started," said Rob Cote, director of memberships at the CCA in a news release.

Condos and apartments

Those workers will likely be most needed for condos and apartments. 

"Interestingly enough, despite the oversupply, the one area that's indicating that there may be an increase in volume for this industry is more multifamily," said Bill Black, the chair of the CCA. 

He was speaking to media at the organization's annual general meeting on Thursday. 

Black said he's heard companies that were investing in sprucing up office space are now moving in to do the same with Calgary's aging apartment blocks. 

"And so, if you can imagine the same flight to quality of aging office infrastructure to new office, aging apartments to new apartments, and a lot of them apparently are looking at high-end rental," he said. 

"The business model exists for others and it may actually create more volume, more activity in our city."