On-Site Magazine

Housing needs beget immigration needs

By Richard Lyall   

Construction Residential

With Canada’s need for new housing skyrocketing, RESCON warns that existing labour pool will not be enough to build what is needed.

Richard Lyall

The facts are clear. We must build more housing, or it will have disastrous consequences for our country and economy. To increase the supply of housing stock, though, we must have trades able to do the work.

By the looks of things, we’re going to end up in dire straits if we fail to take immediate action to correct the issue and allow more immigrants with specialized skills to work in Canada’s residential construction industry.

Domestic training alone will not be enough to offset anticipated labour shortages in the sector. The industry is already short tens of thousands of workers and the coming wave of retirements could make the situation even worse. Our country is already millions of homes behind what’s needed to reach affordability.

A recent CIBC report suggested the construction sector is short a whopping 80,000 jobs. More than half of that figure is specialty trade contractors. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the job vacancy rate in the construction industry was almost six per cent earlier this year, versus a rate below five per cent across all other industries, according to Desjardins. In other words, the construction industry has been harder hit by labour shortages than most other types of industries.


But enough of the statistics.

The fact of the matter is that the construction industry, and the residential sector in particular, need workers with specialized skills to build houses and condos.

To boost the numbers, we must look to immigration. We need to bring in people to this country who can build housing.

Recently, the Conference Board of Canada produced a report that concluded that persistent labour shortages in residential construction are slowing progress toward meeting the goal of building 3.5 million new homes in Canada by 2031. It noted that the current immigration system is not set up to select immigrants with experience in in-demand occupations within the trades, and that key occupations like construction trades are excluded from economic immigration programs.

Importantly, according to authors of the report, allocating a small number of immigration places to occupations that are core to residential construction within Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada’s existing Immigration Levels Plan “could mitigate labour shortages and advance the building of new homes.”

If provinces and regulatory bodies address challenges in credential recognition, immigrants will be able to fill labour market gaps more quickly, which will amplify the positive impact of immigration on home building, the report stated.

To meet government home building targets, the current rate of residential construction needs to double.

The Conference Board forecasts that the residential construction industry will grow by 15 per cent by 2030. But the ratio of unfilled vacancies to the number of employees in the residential construction industry is expected to remain at 3.1 per cent, or a shortage of 12,000 jobs per year on average.

Carpenters and construction trades helpers and labourers are forecasted to have the highest labour gap in residential construction in 2030. We simply won’t have the workers we need to build the homes that are required.

Ontario is expected to lead the way with an average shortage of 4,800 unfilled jobs per year between 2024 and 2030. B.C. and Quebec are next, with an anticipated shortfall of 4,500 each year over the same period.

Immigration is undoubtedly key to stemming the shortage.

Many occupations in the trades, including those needed for residential construction, are eligible for economic immigration programs. But in practice, people with these skills are infrequently selected.

This must change. Our immigration programs must support expanding the supply of workers with experience in the trades, especially voluntary trades who work in residential construction. Often, their credentials are not recognized. We must also reduce barriers to licensing in regulated professions by enabling immigrants with experience to get their qualifications faster. To speed-up licensing of qualified immigrants, the provinces, regulators and employers need to work together.

There is some good news, though.

Apprenticeship numbers appear to be ramping up after being devastated during COVID.

In Ontario, the government also reached an agreement with the feds that will enable the province to increase the number of economic immigrants it selects through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program, raising the number from 9,750 in 2022 to 16,500 in 2023 and more than 18,000 by 2025.

The federal government has also announced a new category-based selection process for its Express Entry immigration system, giving preference to newcomers trained in in-demand vocations, including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, welders, contractors, and residential and commercial installers.

However, much more needs to be done. To combat the housing shortage, we need more immigrants with skills in construction.


Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. To contact him, email media@rescon.com.


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