Top 10 Canadian construction trends to watch in 2024
By MARY VAN BURENConstruction Leadership
What are some of the continuing and emerging themes to watch for in the coming 12 months? Canadian Construction Association president Mary Van Buren shares some of the items on her radar.
As we continue to navigate one of the more tumultuous economic periods in Canada’s history, both within the construction sector and in general life, the end of the year is a good time to take stock and reflect on some of the trends, needs, and developments that are likely to influence the next year of our lives. Here are some of the trends that we have been watching at the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), which we think could have a significant impact on where 2024 takes the industry.
BREAKTHROUGH OF WOMEN.
The industry’s focus to include more women and other underrepresented groups to join the construction workforce is paying off. With the industry committed to providing properly fitting PPE, training and education, making improvements to on-site sanitary conditions, creating inclusive workplace cultures, and the increased use of modular construction, barriers are reducing.
Female construction employment made important gains in September 2023 (+7,800 workers; +3.9%), according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, bringing the female construction workforce to an all-time-high of 206,000 workers. The trades are also getting a boost – 47 per cent of first-year apprentices applying to be part of the Canadian Apprenticeship Service program were from equity-deserving groups.
These are fantastic gains, and the industry is keen to keep up the momentum. With a need for tens of thousands of additional workers and promoting diversity and inclusion, more women, new Canadians, and other underrepresented groups will put construction on their career radar.
GOVERNMENTS RECOGNIZE NEED IS FOR HOUSING, PLUS…
Building an incremental 3.5 million units of affordable housing is a challenge unto itself! Now add in the investment and workforce required to connect that housing to clean water and sewage, the electrical grid, upgrade transportation, expand clinics, hospitals, and schools…and other essential infrastructure to support communities.
A successful housing strategy will include funding that goes beyond the number of units needed to accommodate our growing population and the workforce we need. It will also support and align with our municipalities who carry the brunt of investment and maintenance. The positive economic impact of construction is clear, and governments recognize the industry is foundational to building a stronger Canada.
SECURE DIGITAL CONTRACTING LEAPS FORWARD.
Canadian Construction Documents Committee (CCDC) and Canadian Construction Association (CCA) guides and documents are consensus documents valued by the industry because they are developed by the industry, for the industry. With CCA’s new digital contract purchasing and management platform launching in 2024, they will be even easier to use, leading to wider adoption.
GENERATIVE AI IS FOR CONSTRUCTION TOO!
Not just a cool tool for other industries; leading firms will move beyond experimentation to including generative AI tools like ChatGPT and GPT-4 in their processes. Complementing a stretched project management and administrative workforce, some immediate applications include drafting RFIs, sifting through reports for common themes, or drafting reports. While ChatGPT and other generative AI tools may help with real-time analysis of construction data and simplified communication, there are limitations and risks to its use. Companies will create policies and processes to mitigate these risks while harnessing the benefits.
WINDS OF POLITICAL CHANGE: WILL THEY WORK FOR OR AGAINST CONSTRUCTION?
A federal long-term infrastructure strategy that addresses Canada’s aging infrastructure, invests in the economic growth potential of trade-enabling infrastructure, and plans for housing-enabling infrastructure that aligns with provincial, municipal and Indigenous communities is long overdue.
With a possible change in the federal government on the horizon, the industry will seize the opportunity and responsibility to bring more attention to this urgent issue; focusing on the benefits of job creation, a green economy, and affordable housing – themes important to Canadians.
COLLABORATIVE CONTRACTING TAKES ROOT.
With the workforce shortage, high financing costs and large number of projects to advance Canada’s economy in the pipeline, owners, contractors and labour will have an incentive to work collaboratively. This will ensure we keep our labour force employed, reduce risks, drive innovation and deliver the essential projects Canada needs to remain a competitive country, and great place to live and work.
BUILDING GREEN ENTERS INTO THE EARLY STAGES OF “BUSINESS AS USUAL.”
No longer an idea on the horizon, contractors have been gaining experience and expertise over the last few years to build more sustainably. No longer is it unusual or notable when a project incorporates an environmental aspect into the plans. Green is an expectation; notable are the projects, companies and industry sectors that are continually setting the bar ever higher (or lower, if you are assessing based on carbon, greenhouse gases, and energy use).
Manufacturers like the cement producers have committed to ambitious carbon reduction targets, and others are also reducing their emissions. The role of governments in providing incentives, tools to make it easier for the industry to comply like Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), and updating the building code will help move the needle.
WE GET SERIOUS ABOUT ELECTRIFICATION.
With the federal government’s planned release of the Canada Build Green Strategy in early 2024, it will need to get serious about a national electrification strategy, working closely with all orders of government and Indigenous communities. Not only is the level of investment staggering, but we will also need a trained and available workforce.
IMMIGRATION STARTS FLOWING, BUT PAYOFF IS STILL A FEW YEARS OFF.
The federal government has taken some positive steps, but overall has not acted quickly enough to secure the necessary construction and related workforce. Immigration is still weighted to higher education.
Accelerating approvals for applicants with skills in high-demand construction jobs, including labourers for our civil sector and skilled tradespeople, is necessary for Canada’s future growth. Working closely with provincial and territorial governments will also help align workers to varying needs across the country and fill gaps.
FOCUS ON APPRENTICESHIP SHIFTS TO RETENTION AND PROGRESSION THROUGH TO JOURNEYPERSONS.
The collaboration between industry, government and labour is resulting in increased applications for the Red Seal trades. This is great news. While we need to maintain this flow of talent into apprenticeships, we must pay equal attention to incenting apprentices to not only stay in the industry, but also to progress to journeypersons.
Retirements will impact our industry’s ability to mentor and supervise apprentices if we don’t have enough journeypersons to work effectively on projects while training apprentices. Finding good people, keeping good people, and providing these professionals with a pathway to growth is good business and great for the industry’s future.