Canadian Consulting Engineer

Boom times creating staffing shortages

A repeated theme that emerged at the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) Annual Summit was that ti...

June 30, 2005   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A repeated theme that emerged at the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) Annual Summit was that times are good, but as a result consulting engineering firms across Canada are suffering a shortage of experienced professional staff.
The ACEC Annual Summit was held June 23-25 in Jasper, Alberta. During the ACEC annual meeting, consulting engineering associations across the country gave their reports, and spokespeople from B.C., Alberta, Northwest Territories, Manitoba., Quebec, and Ontario all complained about the staffing problem. However, it seems particularly a challenge in western Canada.
Paul Breeze, Vice President of Consulting Engineers of Alberta, for example, noted that “with a booming economy we’re stretched.” British Columbia’s consulting engineers are also enjoying a thriving economy. Arnold Bradke, P.Eng., reporting from Consulting Engineers of B.C., said that consultants in the province were having their best year in decades, with a housing boom, the Winter Olympics in 2010 and a thriving mining industry all contributing to the good times. Neil Ferguson, P.Eng., past president of Consulting Engineers of Manitoba, reported that the business climate was also “very good” in that province, but that the key issues were the same as for other provinces, a general shortage of intermediate engineering staff.”
Apparently, the shortage of staff has clients becoming concerned about the effect on the quality of work consulting engineers are producing. Paul Breeze noted the potential problem and the need to take action.
The previous day, during a breakfast session on public procurement, speakers from the University of Alberta and from the City of Edmonton voiced concerns that work might be suffering due to consultants being overburdened with work.
A handout from an official at the University of Alberta noted: “Design firms in the Edmonton metropolitan area, and Alberta, appear to be reaching maximum capacity. We are noticing fewer of the large and medium size firms responding to opportunities, experiencing delays in the completion of work, and quality of work has become a concern.”
However, the remarks about work quality were not backed up in the results of a survey produced by the Canadian Public Procurement Council and handed out at the same session. According to that recent survey, 84% of public clients said that consulting engineers were meeting their expectations, and 8% said they were exceeding expectations.
An official from the University of Alberta official suggested firms need to expand to meet the new demand: “Firms will need to grow their presence and capacity in the Edmonton Metropolitan area to meet the demands of future institutional and private sector construction in the Edmonton Metro to Fort McMurray corridor.”
The University of Alberta alone has a vast program of capital expansions ahead. These include $500 million over 10 years for infrastructure renewal, $122 million for retrofitting the Dental Pharmacy building, $577 million for an approved new Health Sciences Ambulatory Learning Centre, and $300 for Phase 2 of the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science — the university’s “highest priority.”


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