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 petroleum and coal products is the largest of the three segments, accounting for 38% of production in 2021, followed closely by the transformation of primary metals (35%) and non-metallic mineral products (27%). The industry exports about 40% of its production. However, within the industry, primary metals are the most exposed to global economic conditions as 65% of its production is shipped to foreign countries, mostly to the United States which accounts for 76% of exports. The industry employed 126,500 workers in 2021 (7.3% of total manufacturing employment) with 52% in primary metals, 35% in non-metallic mineral products, and 13% in petroleum and coal products. Employment is concentrated in Ontario (39%) and Quebec (32%), and the workforce is primarily composed of men (85%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:[1]

  • 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. More specifically, many of the industry’s products are used as inputs for the manufacturing of motor vehicles, chemical products, and fabricated metals and machinery, as well as for the construction of houses, non-residential buildings and engineering structures. After being severely impacted by the recession of 2008-2009, the production of primary metals and mineral products partly recovered from 2010 to 2018, supported by the upturn in manufacturing and housing activity in North America, although growth was temporarily interrupted in 2015-2016 due to the sharp decline in non-residential investment in Canada, particularly in oil and gas engineering structures. The output slightly contracted in 2019 and the decline accelerated markedly in 2020 due to major shutdowns in manufacturing and construction activity at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The modest rebound recorded in 2021 left the output significantly below its pre-pandemic level of 2019. Those fluctuations resulted in a net decline in the industry’s real GDP averaging 0.2% annually for the entire period 2012-2021. Employment was quite volatile during the past decade, but the net result was an average contraction of 0.3% per year, which reflected a marginal increase of 0.1% annually in productivity.

Over the period 2022-2031, output growth in primary metals and mineral products is projected to return to positive territory and strengthen markedly, with a significant part of the growth occurring in the short term as the industry continues to recover from the pandemic. In the longer term, the industry will benefit from the acceleration anticipated in manufacturing activity in Canada, particularly in fabricated metals and machinery as well as in automotive and non-automotive transportation equipment. Although growth in construction activity is expected to weaken relative to the previous decade, a number of factors are expected to stimulate demand for the building materials produced by the industry, including faster growth in the construction of commercial, industrial and institutional buildings, the shift toward multiple dwellings in the residential sector, renewed growth in investment related to engineering structures, and major investment in public infrastructure from the federal government. Such factors are expected to increase the demand for materials like bricks, ceramic, glass, cement, concrete, asphalt, iron, steel, aluminum, etc. Exports are expected to benefit from the relatively low value of the Canadian dollar and the removal of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada. The Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) should also ensure tariff-free access to the key U.S. market over the projection period.

On the negative side, high oil prices are likely to increase input costs in the near term and lower profits in this very energy-intensive industry, pressing businesses to adopt greener manufacturing practices in response to the implementation of the federal carbon tax. Societal shifts to reduce emissions, such as the transition toward renewable energy sources, are also expected to restrain demand for petroleum and coal products, especially toward the end of the projection period. The resulting pace of growth in the industry’s real GDP is projected to average 2.2% annually over the period 2022-2031, with about half the increase occurring in 2022-2023. This significant improvement relative to the past decade is expected to lead to a modest rebound in employment, with job creation averaging 0.6% per year. However, faster gains in productivity led by the modernization of machinery, combined with economies of scale resulting from increased production, are projected to contain employment growth in the industry. The digitization of the construction value chain can improve the efficiency of various metallic and non-metallic mineral products. For example, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a 3D-model-based process that gives industry workers insights into planning the construction of buildings and infrastructures more efficiently. Productivity is projected to grow at an average rate of 1.6% over the period 2022-2031.

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 2012-2021 and 2022-2031 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 2022 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Primary Metals and Mineral Products (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2012-2021 -0.2 -0.3
2022-2031 2.2 0.6

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2022 COPS industrial projections.

[1]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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