Understanding the Impact of Worker Retention on the Construction and Maintenance Industry in Canada - ON-105

Preferred Disciplines: Master, PhD, Post-Doc, Social Sciences
Company: BuildForce Canada
Project Length: 3 X 4 months (12 months)
Desired start date: As soon as possible
Location: Ottawa, ON
No. of Positions: 1-2
Preferences: BuildForce is located in Ottawa but if the student is willing to relocate the university is not an issue. Language: English

About the Company: 

BuildForce Canada is a national not-for-profit industry led organization with a mandate to provide accurate and timely labour market information (LMI) to advance the needs of the entire construction industry. BuildForce Canada will lead value-added programs and initiatives that build the capacity and the capability of the construction workforce to meet current and future industry demand to drive economic growth in Canada.

Project Description:


The construction and maintenance industry is undergoing the most dramatic demographic shift in its history. Close to one quarter of Canada’s construction and maintenance workforce is retiring over the next decade, at a time when the industry is projected to continue steady, but moderate growth. This creates workforce challenges that require a national strategy, encompassing the right policies, programs and initiatives. The goal is to ensure the industry has a sustainable skilled workforce with the ability and flexibility to meet changing demands now and into the future.

At an industry Summit held in 2015, several issues were identified. One of these issues was worker retention. If industry does not create a safe, respectful and equitable environment, it will lose those who come into the industry and discourage others from considering these career opportunities. Retention is a key issue.

Goal: Respectful, equitable, safe work sites that support both the success of the workers and that of the construction and maintenance industry.


  • Safe, respectful and equitable workplaces
  • Improved retention of all workers (youth, Indigenous people, women, immigrants)

Possible Strategies:

  • Undertake research to better understand why people leave the industry and the characteristics of a successful workplace
  • Develop mechanisms to keep apprentices employed during down turns
  • Share existing and develop new best practices where required to support workplace diversity, including zero tolerance policies, pre-employment preparation, on-the-job mentoring, workplace respect programs, etc.
  • Develop and implement diversity training

An industry Advisory Committee has been formed to look at retention and they have identified the following possible retention priorities:

Apprenticeship and Systemic Issues

  • How to attract and retain apprentices
  • Need to streamline certification processes
  • Need to ensure training delivery mechanisms/timing meets apprentice and employer needs
  • Role of mentorship in developing apprentices
  • How to retain apprentices during economic downturns

Attracting and Retaining Under-represented Groups

  • Including women, Indigenous peoples, new Canadians/immigrants, disabled workers, visible minorities, youth

Journeyperson (those nearing retirement) Needs and Expectations

  • This is a group that needs retention focus
  • Mentoring and coaching opportunities may encourage some to stay longer in that capacity

Millennial Needs and the Construction Culture

  • Millennial view of a “career” different than previous cohorts – more emphasis on skill mobility
  • More focus on opportunities to grow/change jobs within a “career”
  • Need to better describe the “construction ecosystem” – need to re-brand as an “ecosystem”
  • Promote the broader opportunities to potential new entrants
  • Owner and Contractor expectations also need to adjust
  • Younger cohorts expect engagement versus the more top down approach of previous cohorts
  • Consider retention in the construction industry versus retention within a specific career/job

Assessment of New Recruits

  • Opportunity to better assess individuals for “fit”
  • This will contribute to retention later.

Out of these possible priorities, research to quantify the value of retention (cost of losing workers) and identifying reasons workers leave the industry was seen to be a key starting point.

Research Objectives:

  • To understand the factors that positively or negatively support  worker retention
  • To understand why workers leave the industry
  • To quantify the value of worker retention (ie. cost of losing workers)


  • Literature reviews
  • Surveying industry employers and workers
  • Key informant interviews

Expertise and Skills Needed:

    • Data gathering instrument design
    • Survey administration
    • Interviewing
    • Quantitative and qualitative analysis
    • Literature review

    For more info or to apply to this applied research position, please

    1. Check your eligibility and find more information about open projects.

    2. Complete this webform. You will be asked to upload your CV. Remember to indicate the title of the project(s) you are interested in and obtain your professor’s approval to proceed.