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After a decade of explosive growth, Alberta's construction industry is poised for three years of job losses as plunging oil prices force energy companies to cancel or delay new projects.
The number of construction jobs in the oil sands could fall by 15 per cent or more, construction industry association BuildForce said in a new forecast Monday.
Most of the job losses will come in engineering employment, although they will spread to residential construction as the province heads into a housing downturn.
Construction hiring won't start to rebound in Alberta until 2018 and will grow by just 6 per cent over the next decade, the association said.
The employment picture is much bleaker than initially expected. Last year BuildForce predicted Alberta construction jobs would grow by 22 per cent over the following 10 years and the organization delayed releasing its forecast this year while it redid its projections to account for the dramatic slide in oil prices.
Alberta has led the country in construction jobs for more than a decade with employment more than doubling since 1997 on the strength of the booming oil and gas sector. But it has already experienced steep job losses this year, with employment falling by 14,000 jobs in February, Statistics Canada said last week, the worst monthly drop since the 2009 recession. Three years of projected job losses represent the greatest fall in the province's employment growth in more than 20 years, BuildForce said.
The slowdown in the oil patch will also have wide-reaching effects across the country. Nationally, the construction industry created more than 62,000 new jobs in the past three years alone, but is expected to add just 81,000 new jobs over the next decade.
Instead, new jobs will shift away from the resource sector toward infrastructure projects.
British Columbia will lead the country in construction job growth with 22,000 new jobs in non-residential construction over the next 10 years thanks to several proposed hydroelectric and LNG facilities. Mining, pipelines and utilities projects will also help boost construction jobs in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and “may draw large numbers of workers out of Alberta,” the organization said.
In Ontario, transportation projects, such as Toronto's subway expansion, will help boost construction employment in Southern Ontario, but across the province construction job growth is expected to be weak over the next decade.
The housing market will also prove challenging, with low population growth an an aging work force dampening the need for new housing across Canada. Many of the new jobs in residential construction over the next decade will come from home renovations and repairs, not from construction of new housing, the association said.
The residential construction industry will see 15,000 new jobs by 2024, with the biggest gains coming from housing markets in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.