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Reshaping the construction industry for Gen Z talent

From crisis to opportunity


The global workforce is experiencing a rapid transformation, as we stand at the threshold of a new era. With advancements in technology, evolving market dynamics, and shifting societal and professional priorities, the future of the workforce is being shaped in unprecedented ways.

As with many business areas, the construction industry is also grappling with a significant obstacle that poses a formidable challenge: a talent crisis that jeopardizes future growth and impedes progress. This crisis has created a turbulent environment where finding and retaining skilled professionals, especially young generations, has become increasingly difficult.

The 2023 BDO Global Construction Survey Report shows that nearly half of the construction companies surveyed globally struggle to attract and keep young professionals. Specifically, 49% of respondents cited challenges in recruiting young professionals and retaining skilled workers, while only 16% reported no hiring difficulties. Find more insights on the global status of the construction industry in this year’s report. 

Explore the full report

"As to be expected, the survey results show the construction industry continues to face challenges in the wake of shifting employee expectations and labour shortages — this undoubtedly reinforces the need for construction organizations to re-evaluate their approach to talent experience today and into the future. While these talent gaps can pose risks to operations, companies can find opportunity in proactively identifying key impacts to their workforce and prioritizing recruitment and retention strategies to help support their business objectives and long-term growth."
Jameson Bouffard, Industry Leader, BDO Canada

To address this challenge, construction companies and industry leaders need to recognize the importance of repositioning themselves as employers of choice for the new generation: Gen Z. By embracing new approaches, leveraging technology, and highlighting the industry's opportunities, the construction sector can tap into the potential of this diverse and dynamic generation.

Canada in focus: Gen Z want a challenging career, but also value their wellbeing

In the realm of professional growth, the needs of the emerging generation have taken center stage in Canada. With an unwavering ambition for challenging careers and a strong commitment to personal wellbeing, this generation is reshaping the landscape of the future workforce in the construction industry and are setting new standards for career aspirations.

The BDO Global construction research in Canada spans 67 corporate respondents and 50 Gen Z respondents. Here are some of the key findings the report revealed.

Pulse check: Future workforce status in construction

The construction landscape through the executives’ lens

Executives in the construction sector are confronted with a challenging situation. With the industry regaining confidence and macroeconomic disruptions stabilizing, a scarcity of skilled labor is anticipated. The survey highlights various indicators that executives should carefully consider.

Staffing difficulties reported in Canada

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60% of Canadian corporates consider staffing difficulties and labour shortages to be one of the top factors negatively impacting their profit, compared to 49% citing these challenges globally.

Icon showing data of 51% in Canada

The greatest need in Canada is for skilled field workers where 51% of corporates are looking to hire these over the next 6 months.

The construction landscape through Gen Z's lens

Born between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2010s, Gen Z represents the future workforce, bringing fresh perspectives, technological fluency, and a strong desire for purposeful careers that match their preferences and work-life balance pursuit. 

For that, the construction industry, with its diverse career opportunities in engineering, finance, technology, strategic leadership, skilled field expertise, and much more, needs to build on its efforts to address the needs and aspirations of this group.

Construction not a top choice for Gen Z  

Students in Canada are less interested in pursuing a career in construction than in any other industry. 

Icon comparing data of 18% in Canada vs. 28% globally

18% said they were very interested in construction compared to 28% globally.

Icon comparing data of 40% in Canada vs. 29% globally

40% reported no interest in the industry, compared to 29% globally.

A significant misalignment on work-life balance

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Canadian students consider work-life balance to be by far the most important, with 50% describing it as ‘essential’. 

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Corporate decision-makers underestimate this where 30% believe young people consider work-life balance to be ‘essential’.  

Stronger messaging needed on the intellectual challenge

Icon comparing data of 38% in Canada vs. 31% globally

Canadian students cite intellectually challenging work as being more important compared to their global counterparts: 38% in Canada vs. 31% globally.

Icon comparing data of 40% in Canada vs. 57% globally

40% of Canadian students felt that a career in construction offers the potential for intellectually challenging work, compared with 57% of students globally.

Key implications: Areas for consideration and improvement 

To effectively address the talent crisis in the construction industry, executives must adopt a broader and long-term approach that not only attracts Gen Z but also retains skilled professionals. This involves taking into consideration key factors that have a direct connection to attracting Gen Zs.  

Here are five crucial implications that significantly contribute to resolving the issue and ensuring a highly skilled workforce for the future, as proposed by BDO’s industry professionals. 

Construction leaders must recognize that Gen Z employees have higher expectations and demands compared to previous generations, necessitating an openness to adapt their organizations to meet these expectations. This includes aspects such as promoting inclusivity and diversity, incorporating modern technology for enhanced productivity, as well as fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation. 

By implementing effective change initiatives, construction businesses can create a more dynamic work environment that aligns with the preferences and aspirations of Gen Z. It’s crucial to showcase the industry's potential for career growth, offering attractive benefits and work-life balance, and prioritizing flexibility and career development avenues in order to appeal as an attractive and fulfilling career choice, ensuring a sustainable talent pipeline for the future.

With a generation that has grown up immersed in technology, the integration of digital tools in construction does not only facilitate collaboration and communication but also showcases the industry's commitment to innovation. Embracing digital transformation reflects the industry's readiness to adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of Gen Z, attracting their interest and talent, thereby ensuring a sustainable future for the sector.

Amid the surge in fraudulent activities across various sectors, the construction industry has not remained immune. Compounded by the talent crisis and the notable turnover of employees, the need for stringent fraud controls becomes a pressing concern. Implementing robust fraud prevention controls early on with proper due diligence and hiring assessments can save the business much harm and avoid costly risks.  

By implementing streamlined and well-defined processes, construction businesses can optimize resource allocation and enhance overall productivity. Such operational excellence creates a positive work environment that fosters innovation and collaboration, factors that resonate with the Gen Z workforce. Additionally, embracing advanced technologies in construction operations will not only improve efficiency but also align with the tech-savvy nature of Gen Z. By showcasing a commitment to modern workflows and innovative practices, the construction industry can attract and engage the next generation of talent.

Embracing ESG principles is vital for the construction sector as it not only contributes to environmental protection and resource conservation but also fosters positive social impact within communities. By prioritizing ESG, businesses within the industry can demonstrate their commitment to mitigating climate change, promoting fair labor practices, and thus attracting Gen Zs, a generation that is highly conscious about the environment, social justice, and ethical conduct, as they seek to align their values with the organizations they work for.
Two construction workers in safety gear holding a clipboard and looking at it in a warehouse setting.

Building for the future

"As leaders in the construction industry, we must recognize the urgent need to stay ahead of the game and embrace change to combat the talent crisis we face. To attract and retain the vibrant talent of Generation Z, we must create an environment that reflects their aspirations and values. By embracing innovation, digitalization, and sustainable practices, we are not only future proofing our industry but also establishing ourselves as an attractive destination for the future workforce."
Jameson Bouffard, Partner, National Real Estate and Construction Leader, BDO Canada

In order to effectively engage Gen Z workers, the construction industry needs to overcome prevailing gaps that dissuade students and actively showcase how this generation can contribute to establishing a sustainable foundation for the future workforce. By riding the wave of change and taking action, the industry can resonate with the new generation and foster their interest in pursuing construction careers.

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