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How businesses are influencing B.C.’s prosperous construction industry

As the local construction sector continues to evolve, companies are elevating their services to meet the industry’s growing standards

Whenever a cyclical industry such as construction is on the upswing, as was the case in B.C. in 2015, not only is it good for the economy overall, it often triggers a domino effect of investors trying to get a jump on one another by fast-tracking projects that were previously put on hold.

According to a BuildForce Canada BC forecast for 2014 to 2024, strength is gathering across most markets and will lift employment each year within this time frame. Engineering activity will lead, with increasing demand requirements from 2015 to 2018 as projects come on stream and reach peak levels of activity.

But two challenges intensify as the construction sector gains momentum: the need for companies to provide added value to clients (in order to prevail in a competitive market) and the need to recruit and retain new talent.

Companies such as Houle Electric, which for decades was famous as an electrical contractor as well as a design-build specialist, added value—and became a 21st century trailblazer—by excelling in technologies integration. Today, Houle is regarded as a solutions provider in the security, building automation and data network realms, and for its proficiency in seamlessly integrating these and other services for a single client.

Wales McLelland Construction, which has been operating in Vancouver for over 40 years, provides added value by being a one-stop shop. For example: being proficient in a variety of building delivery methods (general contracting, design-build, construction management, sustainable and LEED building); providing due diligence data to assist clients’ development and feasibility decisions; offering permits and cost effective fixed-price costing; and arranging financing if required.

Technology also distinguishes Wales McLelland. It uses the SiteMax IT system, whereby all parties have access to real-time reports on construction activities, thus enhancing engagement opportunities and records of daily activities. Wales McLelland staff also uses BoomBuild, a construction social network that, amongst many other things, disseminates important safety data.

Currently, Wales McLelland is enjoying what president and owner Doug Scott describes as “a high demand for industrial and distribution centres that shows signs of continuing throughout 2016.” 

But the construction sector upswing notwithstanding, Scott identifies key issues that he hopes will eventually be addressed in order for his industry to continue to prosper. “Because of factors such as our Agricultural Land Base designations, we have a lack of industrial land base that can be developed, and the result is an extremely high cost of real estate,” he says. “Additionally, governments on all levels are reluctant to support industry and jobs; the focus instead is on perceived green initiatives. We take sustainability very seriously, but banning pipelines and discouraging mining doesn’t make sense—not if we are to continue paying for and supporting social initiatives.”

The second challenge of a robust construction market, labour, is being addressed by companies such as ThinkTalent Inc. ThinkTalent’s specialty is matching top talent with premium career opportunities in the engineering space, as well as providing specialized technical recruitment consultation, search and interviewing services for clients.

ThinkTalent founder and principal consultant Pierre Blais agrees that growth in the construction sector will continue in 2016 and that B.C. may well achieve its familiar objective of becoming Canadian leaders in growth. To that end, his company will continue to help time-starved and overworked front line managers identify their labour needs by providing what he calls skills gap analysis. “In terms of human resources, we look at what a company requires in both the near and long term, and only when we determine exactly what is needed do we begin presenting highly qualified candidates,” Blais explains.

He believes that the industry overall must focus more attention on everything from succession plans to co-op programs, as well as partnering with First Nations to minimize the looming gap between job opportunities and work force capability: “These elements are critical in moving forward, and the sooner they are addressed, the better off we’ll be.”