Canadian Consulting Engineer

Construction industry needs an umbrella organization, says committee

December 6, 2003
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

A committee asked to look at ways of stimulating innovation in the construction industry in Canada has recommended...

A committee asked to look at ways of stimulating innovation in the construction industry in Canada has recommended that the industry needs a new umbrella organization to represent the many different facets of the industry. The organization would have private and public sector representives, everyone from material suppliers to engineers, contractors, clients, financial institutions and research and development people.
The recommendation for a new national body was just one of the points made by the National Steering Committee for Innovation in Construction. The committee, chaired by Dev Fraser, vice president at PCL in Edmonton, included private and public sector members, with Dale Craig of J.L. Richards in Ottawa, and Ali Ettehandie of Genivar in Montreal, representing consulting engineers.
The committee was formed as part of the federal governments “Canada Innovation Strategy,” and involved consultatations with 17 industry organizations, including the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada, the Canadian Consutruction Association, the NRC Institute for Research in Construction, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
According to the report issued by the Committee, the new “whole-industry” organization would have the following role. It would:
 Find and engage champions
 Be a stable, unifying structure and provide the focal point at which industry’s priorities and activities are established
 Identify and prioritize R & D needs
 Set a national strategy for innovation
 Work to create a cultural exchange in support of innovation
 Create a national network for disseminating information and technology transfer
Aside from their recommendation for the new overarching construction organization, the committee’s made many other recommendations to encourage innovation. These included:
 Stabilizing funding by the public sector to encourage companies to adopt long term hiring and innovation strategies
 Creating a regulatory environment that allows for performance-based assessment
 Changing the emphasis in procurement and contracting away from low price to best value (life-cycle costing) and a preference to sustainability
 Tailoring the IRAP and research tax credit programs to meet the construction sector’s non-laboratory approach to R & D.
In the IT arena, the committee recommended influencing the “appropriate organizations” to increase interopability between software systems, and to support the establishment of construction technology clusters.
On the human resources front, the committee said the industry has to improve its public image as an employer with a poor safety record and poor working conditions.
The report also presented a snapshot view of the construction industry. It noted that the total industry with its dedicated supply chain represents 11.2% of gross domestic product, with revenues of $107.3 billion. It employs 853,400 people, of which 136,200 are in engineering and architecture. Construction uses 35-40% of the total national energy consumption, generates 25% of Canada’s solid waste, and consumes 50% of primary natural resources.
Construction remains an industry of small companies — 95% of the firms involved have fewer than 10 employees. The report also noted that the business environment is very unstable — in six years 50% or half of the construction companies now operating will be closed.


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