The chemical industry in Canada is a diverse group of companies that create everything from basic chemicals and synthetic fibres to pharmaceuticals, soaps and paints. The industry operates across all regions of Canada. 

As we drill into the data, it’s important to note that the chemical industry is vast and we’re only reviewing two areas – Industrial and Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing. They are further broken down into:

Industrial Chemical Manufacturing 
  • Basic chemicals – the companies that transform raw, natural resources into organic (petrochemicals) and inorganic chemicals. 
  • Synthetic resins and fibres – the companies that use basic chemicals and polymerize them into synthetic resins and fibres. Sometimes the companies buy the basic chemicals from other companies and sometimes they produce them internally.
Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing
  • Fertilizers and pesticides – fertilizer companies use raw resources and create a chemical reaction to produce the desired product. In Canada, pesticide companies are primarily involved in blending, not producing the active ingredients. 

Petrochemical products are manufactured from raw materials (oil and natural gas) to feedstocks, basic chemicals, chemical intermediates (derivatives), and ultimately final products. The number of products grows from less than fifteen basic petrochemicals to thousands of final products as illustrated in the flow chart below. 

Source: Canadian Energy Regulator


The chemical manufacturing industry as a whole employed 87,700 workers in 2020, with employment in the industrial and agricultural chemical manufacturing sub-sectors representing 27% of total chemical manufacturing employment. Over the last decade, employment peaked in 2013 at 28,000, and remained relatively stable from 2015 to 2019 within the range of 26,000 to 27,000. Then as COVID-19 hit, employment declined by about 2,000 or -7.6% year-over-year to 24,000 in 2020.

Industrial and Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing Employment in Canada, 2010 – 2020 

We will be referring to the three industries (NAICS 3251, 3252 and 3253) as the petrochemical industry. 

Distribution of Energy Employment in Canada, 2020 

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, December 2020

In 2020, petrochemical industry employment represented 14% of total energy employment as shown in the figure above, and was concentrated in Ontario (41%), Alberta (23%) and Quebec (16%). There were smaller pockets of employment in the basic chemical sub-sector in British Columbia and Manitoba, and in the fertilizer and pesticide sub-sector in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. 

Employment by Sex

In 2020, men represented nearly two-thirds (64%) of employment in the chemical manufacturing industry.

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, Annual data, 2020.

Employment by Age

Workers in the chemical manufacturing industry tend to be older and more experienced. In 2020, nearly half (45%) of those employed in chemical manufacturing were aged 45 and older.

Refining Industry

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) groups refineries with other companies that transform crude petroleum and coal into intermediate and end products. The primary process is petroleum refining – the process involves separating crude petroleum into components through techniques like cracking and distillation. This data is for the NAICS 324: Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing and will be referred to as the Refining Industry in this piece.   


The refining industry employed about 15,600 workers in 2020. Over the last 10 years, employment peaked in 2013 at 19,900, and remained relatively stable up until 2019 within the range of 18,000 to 19,000. Then as COVID-19 hit, employment declined by about 2,300 or –12.7% year-over-year to 15,600 in 2020. 

Refining Industry Employment in Canada, 2010 – 2020 

Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, Annual data, 2020.

In 2020, the refining industry was concentrated in Ontario (36%), Quebec (23%), Alberta (19%) and British Columbia (5%). 

Employment by Sex 

In 2020, men represented 90% of employment in the refining industry. 

Employment by Age

Workers in the refining industry tend to be older and more experienced. In 2020, over half (55%) of those employed were aged 45 and older. 

Petrochemicals and refining occupations include many of the roles already found in oil and gas companies. Companies need people in business and operations support roles like human resources and business development, as well as more technical roles like engineers, technologists and geoscientists. Environmental, regulatory and stakeholder engagement is very similar to oil and gas with many of the communications, reclamation and health and safety professionals needed. Occupations are profiled in the Career Directory, where you can find work activities, qualifications and experience and education requirements.  

Survey of Innovation and Business Strategy

Statistics Canada recently released data from the Survey of Innovation and Business Strategy (SIBS), which collects information on the strategic decisions, innovation activities, and operational tactics of businesses in Canada. 

Lack of skilled trades top skill shortage 

In 2019, 35% of the refining industry and 48% of chemical manufacturing businesses (excluding pharmaceutical manufacturing) identified skill shortages in skilled trades. In addition, 15% of refining businesses identified skill shortages in areas related to information technology (such as IT security and database administration) and 10% reported shortages in computer science skills (such as software engineering and artificial intelligence). For chemical manufacturing businesses, 22% reported shortages in general data science and analytics skills (such as data modelling and visualization), while shortages in computer science and international business skills were each reported at 18%.  

Percentage of select energy businesses in Canada that encountered skill shortages, 2019 

Refining and chemical manufacturing businesses took a variety of measures to overcome skill shortages in 2019. The most common for refining businesses was outsourcing work (82%), followed by conducting targeted recruitment processes (74%) and training staff (35%). The most common for chemical manufacturing businesses was outsourcing work (58%), followed by training staff (46%) and conducting targeted recruitment processes (40%).   

Measures taken to overcome skill shortages by select energy industries in Canada, 2019 

In terms of training provided, 84% of refining and 80% of chemical manufacturing businesses provided job-specific training to their employees. Managerial training and training in new technology rounded out the top three types of training provided for both industry sectors.  

Training or development activities arranged or provided by select energy industries in Canada, 2019 

Use of advanced or emerging technology 

In 2019, 44% of refining businesses and half of chemical manufacturing businesses used at least one type of advanced or emerging technology. Advanced technologies are new technologies (equipment and software) that perform a new function or perform a function significantly better than the technologies commonly used in the industry or by competitors.

The top advanced technology used by refining businesses was clean technologies, while IoT systems was the top emerging technology used. Clean technologies are any goods or services that reduce environmental impacts through environmental protection activities or through the sustainable use of natural resources. For chemical manufacturing businesses, the top advanced technology used was business intelligence technologies, while biotechnology was the top emerging technology used.  

Use of advanced or emerging technology by select energy industries in Canada, 2019

The top reasons that refining and chemical manufacturing businesses indicated that they did not adopt or use advanced or emerging technologies in 2019 was that the technology was not applicable to their business, followed by investment wasn’t necessary for continuing operations. Nearly 1 in 4 chemical manufacturing businesses (22%) indicated the reason was difficulty in integrating new technologies with existing systems. 

Reasons for not adopting or using advanced or emerging technologies by select energy industries in Canada, 2019 

Across all sectors of the industry people with an understanding of energy and technical know-how are needed. In the petrochemicals and refining sector roles may include computer network administrators, data engineers, cybersecurity analysts and database administrators.  

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