The president of the association representing the provincial construction sector blames high living costs, low housing affordability and better opportunities elsewhere for the loss of construction workers in B.C.
“We’ve seen indications that construction workers, both skilled and unskilled, are moving out of the province as a direct result of B.C.’s high cost of living, housing shortage, and the perception of better opportunities elsewhere,” Chris Atchison, British Columbia Construction Association’s president, said.
“Our workforce is invaluable, and we cannot afford to lose a single tradesperson or journeyperson,” he added.”B.C. needs an effective, affordable, multi-unit housing strategy aimed at keeping workers like those in the construction sector within the province.”
He made these comments as BCCA released a slate of new statistics that paint a mixed picture of an industry that contributes 10.3 per cent to the provincial GDP and employs 218,000 people, the most of any goods-producing sector in B.C.
“Project work is still plentiful,” Atchison said, adding that the number of construction projects is up 109 per cent over the past five years and still rising. But Atchison added that “cyclical issues” like rising costs for material and labour are challenging contractors to meet demand. These pressures have led to lay-offs, he said.
“At the same time, for the first time in 10 years, we’ve seen a trend of inter-provincial negative net migration,” Atchison said. “This leads us to believe that workers may be moving out of province in search of more affordable housing and better cost of living.”
Atchison said employment in construction declined by 14,500 workers, a drop of almost six per cent.
Atchison said government could help the industry by introducing prompt-payment legislation in repeating a long-stand demand.
“Government seems to be under the illusion that contractors all have the deep pockets needed to essentially fund large-scale projects,” he said. But that is not the case, he said, adding that no other industry has to wait that long.
“About 90 per cent of B.C. contractors are small companies, and they are often paid three or six months after the last nail has been pounded, or the last coat of paint has dried,” he said.
Atchison added that government has to act now.
“The situation is dire,” he said. “Unlocking cash flow is an economic necessity and in the best interests of every community in British Columbia.”
The latest statistics, however, also include some positive trends. According to BCCA figures, the industry will be short 6,000 workers by 2032, an improvement over past years.
“The good news is that this anticipated shortage is down 49 per cent over the last five years, as a result of collaborative workforce development efforts of the BCCA and industry at large,” Atchison said.
The Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation indirectly challenged the bleaker parts of BCCA’s assessment, noting the number of construction jobs rose by 38,000 since July 2017 (when the NDP took power), citing Statistics Canada’s Survey of Employment Payrolls and Hours.
That figure ranks B.C. third among all provinces, despite higher borrowing costs, inflation and labour shortages challenging construction companies around the world, according to the ministry. Government also expects nearly 73,000 new job openings between 2022 and 2032 and is focusing on breaking down barriers to help more people join the trades.
The ministry’s statement also notes attorney general Niki Sharma has met with BCCA, adding staff are monitoring the impact of prompt payment legislation elsewhere.