The construction retirement bubble

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The construction retirement bubble

For almost two decades, the construction industry has been experiencing tremendous growth due to investment in housing, public infrastructure and the energy sector. Surging demand, accompanied by an aging workforce, has led experts to predict an upcoming retirement bubble in Canadian construction with 21 per cent of the industry’s labour force set to retire over the next decade.

BuildForce Canada – a construction industry think tank – estimates that the Canadian construction industry will only be slightly larger by 2027 than the 1.4 million employed today. Around 250,000 employees will exit the industry in the next 10 years, meaning roughly 300,000 new workers will be needed to meet demand.

BuildForce executive director Bill Ferreira said, “The retirement bubble that we’ve been expecting seems to be finally hitting us, and it’s all related to the aging demographics of the country.” He goes on to mention the number of employees exiting the labour market will exceed the available pool of entrants, creating challenges for the future. Notoriously, the construction industry has been plagued with slow adaptability, and this poses a threat in the coming decade.

To minimize the risk, Ferreira said the industry “will have to work very closely with high schools and community colleges to promote a career in construction.”

George Brown and Red River College are the pioneers of the four-year bachelor degree program in construction management. Designed with input from industry partners, it provides direct experience through co-op placement and applied research projects. In 2011, there was no waiting list – now there are enough people on the list to fill next year’s quota.

“We ought to be able to get students graduating from our post-secondary education system job-ready,” said Paul Charette, former CEO of Calgary-based Bird Construction. “It shouldn't take 25 years to learn the ins and outs of a construction company.”

Charette was heavily involved in the programs. “Through applied research, students are learning the critical-thinking skills they need to come into our industry and challenge our management to say, ‘Why don’t we do things this way?’ or ‘Have we ever thought about doing this?’” The bubble prediction has led industry drivers to seek proactive solutions to future supply issues.

Being proactive in your recruitment and succession planning is essential. With a near 100 per cent employment rate in the industry, competition for recruiting young talent is continually intensifying. One way to get an edge is to look into construction management programs by bringing in students with managerial know-how and expertise in construction research. Do not wait for your supply to run low. Anticipate the demographic shift and you will thank yourself in the future.  

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