Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Primary Metals and Mineral Products

(NAICS 3241; 3271-3279; 3311-3315)

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in transforming crude petroleum and coal into intermediate and final products (such as fuels, hydraulic fluids and asphalt), in manufacturing non-metallic mineral products (such as bricks, ceramic, cement and glass), and in smelting and refining primary metals (such as iron, steel, copper or aluminum) for the production of bars, sheets, pipes, tubes or wires. The transformation of primary metals is the largest of the three segments, accounting for 40% of production in 2018, followed closely by petroleum and coal products (38%) and non-metallic mineral products (22%). The industry exports about 40% of its production. However, within the industry, primary metals are the most exposed to global economic conditions as 70% of its production is shipped to foreign countries, mostly to the United States which accounts for 76% of exports. The industry employed 125,000 workers in 2018 (7.2% of total manufacturing employment) with 55% in primary metals, 34% in non-metallic mineral products, and 11% in petroleum and coal products. Employment is concentrated in Ontario (38%) and Quebec (34%), and the workforce is primarily composed of men (85%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:[3]

  • Supervisors, mineral and metal processing (9211)
  • Machine operators, mineral and metal processing (9411)
  • Concrete, clay and stone forming operators (9414)
  • Labourers in mineral and metal processing (9611)
  • Crane operators (7371)
  • Glass forming and finishing machine operators and glass cutters (9413)
  • Inspectors and testers, mineral and metal processing (9415)
  • Central control and process operators, mineral and metal processing (9231)
  • Foundry workers (9412)
  • Machining tool operators (9417)

Because the largest users of primary metals and mineral products are the manufacturing and construction sectors, the industry generally tracks the level of activity in these two sectors. A key factor driving the small decline in output over the past ten years was the negative impact of the 2008-2009 recession on North American industrial activity. Many of the industry’s products are used as inputs in manufacturing industries such as motor vehicles, trailers and parts, chemical products, and fabricated metals and machinery, and those three industries were hit hard by the recession. While output in primary metals and mineral products increased progressively after the recession, the construction sector was largely responsible for restraining activity in the industry in 2015-2016, as the sharp decline in non-residential investment, particularly in engineering structures related to oil and gas extraction, reduced demand for the industry products that are used as building materials. This resulted in a marginal decline of 0.1% annually in real GDP for the entire period 2009-2018. In comparison, employment recorded a much steeper decline of 2.0% annually, leaving the total number of jobs in the industry well below the levels observed in the early 2000s. After falling drastically during and shortly after the recession, employment remained relatively stable in subsequent years, despite the gradual recovery in output. This reflected the need to improve productivity and competitiveness through significant consolidations and closures of the least productive plants.

Over the projection period, renewed growth in the industry is expected to be partly driven by the acceleration anticipated in manufacturing activity in Canada, particularly in chemical products and fabricated metals and machinery. Additional growth in construction activity is also expected to fuel demand for primary metals and mineral products. Despite the slowdown anticipated in residential investment and business investment in engineering structures, the faster pace of growth projected in the construction of commercial, industrial and institutional buildings and major investment in public infrastructure from the federal government are all expected to increase the demand for bricks, ceramic, glass, cement, concrete, asphalt, iron, steel, aluminum products, etc. Exports are expected to benefit from healthy economic growth in the United States, the relatively low value of the Canadian dollar, and the recent decision from the U.S. administration to remove tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada. The signing of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) should also ensure tariff-free access to the key U.S. market over the long term. While low oil prices should help firms to save costs and support profits, the industry is very energy-intensive and will be pressed to adopt greener manufacturing practices in response to the implementation of the federal carbon tax.

The resulting pace of growth in the industry’s real GDP is projected to return to positive territory over the period 2019-2028, averaging 2.0% annually. Renewed growth in production is expected to result in a modest rebound in employment, with job creation averaging 0.6% per year. However, gains in productivity led by the modernization of machinery, combined with economies of scale resulting from increased production, are projected to restrain employment growth in the industry. The digitization of the construction value chain can improve the efficiency of building various metallic and non-metallic mineral products. For example, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a 3D-model-based process that gives industry workers insight into planning the constructions of building and infrastructure more efficiently.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Primary Metals and Mineral Products

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2009-2018 and 2019-2028 for the industry of primary metals and mineral products. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Primary Metals and Mineral Products (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2009-2018 -0.1 -2.0
2019-2028 2.0 0.6

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

[3]Key occupations for manufacturing industries in general also include: Manufacturing managers (0911); Construction millwrights and industrial mechanics (7311); Material handlers (7452); Shippers and receivers (1521); Transport truck drivers (7511); Industrial engineering and manufacturing technologists and technicians (2233); Industrial electricians (7242); and Industrial and manufacturing engineers (2141). Back to text.

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