On-Site Magazine

Net-zero plans will require more workers, says BuildForce

By Adam Freill   

Commercial Construction Institutional Labour Residential

Eliminating carbon emissions in Canada’s residential, commercial, and institutional buildings will bring construction labour pressures.

Building a Greener Future report quantifies some of the costs and needs of decarbonizing Canada’s building stock. (Cover image courtesy of BuildForce Canada)

Retrofitting Canada’s residential, commercial and institutional building stock to incorporate sustainable fuel sources, technologies and materials could require as many as 57,000 additional construction workers and generate more than $81 billion in new construction investments by 2032, says BuildForce Canada in its latest labour report.

The paper, Building a Greener Future: Estimating the impact on construction labour demands from transitioning buildings in Canada away from fossil fuels, considers the implications of retrofitting existing buildings to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprints in support of the Government of Canada’s goals to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is occurring at a time when construction labour markets have been operating at, or near, full capacity in many regions of the country.

The report was developed with input from an industry steering committee consisting of representatives from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, ClimateCare, the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada (MCAC), and Reliance Home Comfort. It models a scenario in which two types of green-building activities are performed: converting space and water heating equipment from fossil fuels to electric power sources, and retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency and minimize heat loss.

The study found that as many as 16,300 new jobs relating to fuel switching could be created in the residential sector alone, while a further 40,600 may be created to perform energy-efficiency retrofits. The labour needs to accommodate the conversion of, and renovations to, Canada’s stock of commercial and institutional buildings was not calculated for the report, but that would represent an additional strain to the labour pool.


“Addressing this transition will be a huge undertaking for Canada’s construction and building retrofit sector, but it will create a significant number of new employment opportunities among several trades, most notably heating, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics,” stated Martin Luymes, vice-president, government and stakeholder relations at HRAI.

“The challenge for the construction sector is that this transition is being considered at a time when non-residential construction demands are already reporting peak or near-peak levels in many provinces, and when the residential construction sector is confronted with the additional challenge of building millions of new housing units to address Canada’s housing crisis,” added Tania Johnston, chief executive officer at MCAC.

Although the level of effort required to transition Canada’s stock of commercial and institutional buildings could not be completely assessed for this report, BuildForce estimates that the change will create significant demands for non-residential workers. A significant portion of the space and water heating units installed in these buildings is currently powered by fossil fuels.




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