B.C.’s construction sector came out the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic bigger in some ways, smaller in others, more diverse and paying higher wages.
According to a recent survey by the BC Construction Association (BCCA), the total value of construction in B.C. is up a whopping 79% over a five-year period to $134 billion, and up 17% from pre-pandemic levels.
Wages are up too. The average yearly wage has increased 14% over a five-year period to $66,591 a year. Since the beginning of the pandemic, wages increased 8%.
Construction is one sector of the economy that was deemed an essential service during the pandemic.
“The industry has responded incredibly well,” BCCA president Chris Atchison told BIV. “So while we've been able to… keep our momentum going with construction, a number of accommodations needed to be made. But it was more of a pivot than it was a shutdown.”
The industry has plenty of work, thanks to multi-billion mega-projects from the private sector and government-sponsored public works projects. The number of construction companies in B.C. has grown over the five-year survey period. While there are more companies, they are smaller.
The five-year trend has seen an 11% increase in the number of construction companies in B.C., but the number of construction trades workers actually shrank. The number of workers in the industry declined by 9% compared to pre-pandemic levels (2019), though workers are getting more skilled.
“The average company size has decreased 7% over the last five years to an average of 6.53 workers,” the BCCA says in a press release. “Approximately 90% of companies in the industry employ less than 20 workers.”
Despite a general tightening of available labour in Canada, Atchison said, “I think we're doing a very good job of attracting people to the industry.”
“Workers are also getting more skilled, with 76% of survey respondents reporting they are fully credentialed and 12% working on their ticket,” the BCCA says. “More women are receiving subsidized training and mentorship than men, and the number of companies with diversity policies in place has risen to 84% from 62% just a few years ago.
“At least 17% of the projected skills gap has been filled by tradeswomen, who are now 5.7% of the skilled workforce.”
B.C.’s construction sector employs more than 215,000 workers and accounts for 9.3% of B.C. gross domestic product.
The industry is busy thanks to “unprecedented commitment of tax dollars to infrastructure spending and a boom in large private projects.”
Interestingly, though, many contractors won’t even bother bidding on government public projects. In a survey of 1,000 members, 20% said they are less likely to bid on government projects this year.
The BCCA does not explain why contractors are spurning government contracts.