Representing the Past, Present and Future of Toronto’s Construction Industry

Toronto Construction Association (TCA)

The Toronto Construction Association (TCA) is an industry association that gives members a voice at the industry and legislative level. Working with partners like the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) and the Council of Ontario Construction Association (COCA), it will continue to represent its members, advocating for them and providing them with resources and information.
Founded as the General Builders Society in 1867 – the same year as Confederation – the Toronto Construction Association has long supported its members through a wide range of business and professional development opportunities. Last year, the organisation celebrated its 150th anniversary, making it the oldest association in Canada. The organisation may be old, but it is as relevant as ever. It offers a strong industry voice that will continue to shape Toronto’s impressive construction market long into the future.

“Toronto is one of the busiest construction markets in the world. It arguably, for a time, was the busiest business construction market in the world, and in Ontario, we’ve seen building permits rise dramatically in recent years. This year, my best guess will be somewhere in the $19 billion range in Ontario, which is an enormous construction market,” explained TCA President and Chief Executive Officer John Mollenhauer.

The association represents over 1,800 company members and 300,000 industry practitioners from all facets of the industry including industrial, commercial, and institutional construction in the Greater Toronto Area. Membership divisions include owners, manufacturers, suppliers, service providers, trade contractors, general contractors, and allied professionals.

TCA offers members an industry advantage by providing up-to-date industry information, political advocacy, business opportunities, education, and professional development opportunities, as well as a network of like-minded professionals.

The association hosts events like its annual members’ days, golf tournaments, and a Christmas lunch. Last year, the association’s Christmas lunch was held alongside Construct Canada, the largest construction industry trade show in the country. The lunch was attended by over 2,500 people and was a great opportunity to bring together its members and the industry.

“Construct Canada attracts upwards of 35,000 people a year, and that was started by TCA and run by TCA for years. It’s now owned and operated by Informa, which is a multinational that does an excellent job. We remain a sponsor and strong supporter of the show,” Mollenhauer explained.

The association plays a leadership role in the industry. Much of the organisation’s work is done through its various committees which address the issues that matter most to members. Mollenhauer noted that many of the issues are the same, such as the demand for skilled labour, procurement related issues, and the need for advocacy and representation to ensure that legislation reflects its members’ and the industry’s best interests.

“Through our 151-year history, we find that as the volume of business grows, interest in those associations diminishes a little bit. So, for example, the most significant motivator is project opportunities,” he said.

The traditional design-bid-build method has evolved, and this has created issues surrounding document quality. Fees are more competitive, and budgets and timelines are tighter than ever. Construction professionals have less time with which to produce a document, and quality often suffers as a result. Design-bid-build is still a popular project delivery method, but the process has become far more challenging.

In the past, construction professionals were able to complete a set of tender documents with drawings, specifications and instructions for bidders with more ease than is the case now. Money and time were not a constraint.

“We receive a set of drawings and specifications and instructions, and we look for a way to construct that building based on what’s been designed, as quickly and as cost-effectively as we can. So when the documents are less complete, that makes it more challenging,” he said.

“A generation ago, builders were okay with omissions, for example, because they could make money on changes. That’s nearly impossible these days. A builder that looks at an incomplete set of documents is not excited about the omissions or the high volume of interference, because they find that they aren’t really making any money on the changes.”

The emergence of public-private partnerships (P3) is another marked change in project delivery in Ontario. Projects are being won by consortia, teams of architects, engineers, contractors, and lenders who have a seat at the table during the project’s early stages.

“What has traditionally been very prescriptive for a contract in the design-bid-build world, it’s now becoming very different. We all have a contribution to make in planning projects, and we’re seeing collaborative methodologies evolve – integrated project delivery,” Mollenhauer explained.

One of the most critical problems facing TCA is a shortage of skilled labour, which is affecting the markets in Ontario and across North America. Construction industry organisation BuildForce predicts a severe skilled labour shortage for field labour and trades as well as construction professionals like estimators, project managers, and project engineers.

Traditionally, the construction industry has been able to overcome labour shortages, but this promises to be a more substantial shortage than in the past, especially as Baby Boomers retire since there is no pipeline of workers to sufficiently address the deficit.

Education is vitally important to the future of the industry, and TCA offers professional development and education. “Our education arm of the association is called The Construction Institute of Canada (TCIC). We’re focused on providing the kind of education and training that a construction industry practitioner would need to be more effective in their jobs,” he explained.

The association is the only Canadian organisation outside of colleges and universities to offer courses that provide a logical pathway for learning. Education is administered both in-class and online using an e-learning platform, and members receive significantly discounted rates for all courses. While this will not solve the skilled labour shortage, it can improve the skills resources.

Another resource from which TCA members benefit is access to its electronic plan room service offered through the BestBidz platform, which gives members round-the-clock project access to endless opportunities at the local, provincial, and national scale.

“Until twenty-five to thirty years ago, a trade or a supplier who was bidding on a project would need to go to a physical plans room, open the drawings, read through the specifications, try to determine where in those documents their products, for example, are specified, take the quantities off, put together an estimate of the cost, and submit their prices to prime contractors who aggregate those prices,” noted Mollenhauer.

“That work is all done through the internet now. It’s user-friendly, searchable. We have been in the electronic plans room business for more than twenty years, and we’re looking to make dramatic changes towards that this year.”

Members also benefit from TCA’s advocacy, which has been quite successful recently. The association has been working on reaching some form of prompt payment legislation over the last decade and has finally achieved its goal.

“Bill 142 passed in Ontario in early December, and that was great news for the industry, because it will see money flow faster through from an owner, ultimately to a contractor and down through the food chain, and it will make a profound difference, and that’s an enormous victory for the construction industry,” Mollenhauer explained.

He credits policymakers who worked to “craft language that actually works. It’s palatable for everybody.” The modernised Lien Act will take effect July first, and then, on October first of 2019, prompt payment and adjudication legislation is expected to roll out.

Noting that members have little to no experience with the adjudication process, TCA strives to be well-researched on the issue, drawing on subject matter experts to communicate information to its members.

The association also contends with rapid technological progressions and its members’ ability to adopt and integrate these. “We’re on the cusp of an industrial revolution – a technological revolution – and it’s going to change the way we do things as an industry dramatically looking forward, so now we’re beginning to evolve as an industry, and it’s exciting,” he stated.

Citing examples like three-dimensional printing, drone technology, and smart lighting, Mollenhauer identified the myriad ways the industry is advancing. Building information modelling (BIM) is one of the greatest examples of a technology that completely altered the way the industry operated.

“We’re trying to help our members understand these innovations and new technologies from a practical perspective,” said Mollenhauer. This includes new methods, technologies, and innovations. “We help them better understand what kinds of costs are involved and what the benefits look like.”

He believes TCA and its members need to challenge the status quo to remain viable. The association will continue to emphasize education and training, assist member companies with information related to adopting new technology in the industry. The industry is rapidly changing, and efforts are being made to stay current.

“I think associations are here to stay and will always be an enormous value-add for members. We’re all working constructively to improve the industry for everybody that’s in it because we all ultimately benefit, so we work together collaboratively to try to come up with solutions for these challenges,” Mollenhauer concluded.

More Than Just a Trend

The construction industry is typically slow to evolve. Despite the existence of countless new innovations and technologies, and safer, better ways to do things, it is an industry where tried and true construction methods and long-accepted materials are seldom replaced by a new product or approach.

April 20, 2021, 4:16 AM EDT