Industry Changemakers

Toronto Construction Association (TCA)

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

“It’s about helping out members in an industry that has and will continue to have lots of challenges,” said TCA President and CEO John Mollenhauer. “Our goal has always been to help member companies build better businesses, to do everything in our power to help the industry and the practitioners in it.”

TCA is the oldest association in Canada. Founded in 1867, the same year as Confederation, the organization comprises over 1,800 member companies and 300,000 industry practitioners that represent all facets of construction from owners to manufacturers, contractors, suppliers, service providers and allied professionals.

Members benefit from the organization’s advocacy work, its provision of resources and information, education, professional and business development opportunities, and the camaraderie of a network of peers who face the same challenges daily.

“We spend a lot of time helping members with procurement-related challenges, unfair tendering practices and transfer of risk. We’re focused on education, both formal and informal. We have the Construction Institute of Canada and we offer several courses, including some Gold Seal Certified courses that are well-attended to help practitioners stay current and stay ahead of the curve.

One of the most pressing issues for members over the last several years has been prompt payment and related cash flow issues, and for nearly two decades, TCA has advocated for members, lobbying the government to ensure contractors are paid on a timely basis.

As an industry, TCA worked collaboratively to advance Bill 142, now known as the Ontario Construction Act, which looks to modernize the Ontario Construction Lien Act with a series of changes that have already been introduced as well as prompt payment and adjudication legislation to expedite payment processing. The prompt payment and adjudication piece is expected to come into effect in October 2019.

Mollenhauer noted that the Ontario Construction Act will have “a profound impact” on the industry, resolving disputes in real time offering a form of “rough justice” that has experienced great success in the UK and Australia. Bill 142 was a great success for the organization, though it is certain to take some time to be fully implemented as many projects, including public projects, will be grandfathered.

As TCA worked tirelessly to resolve the issues pertaining to prompt payment, another major issue emerged that started to have serious implications for TCA members and the industry: a shortage of skilled labour.

BuildForce Canada, a national industry-led organization that provides information and resources to the construction industry, is forecasting that over the next decade, there will be a skilled labour shortage of upwards of 300 000 workers in Canada. A labour shortage will not only impact profitability; timelines will be crunched, existing labour will become increasingly dear and quality and safety can be threatened.

“We’ve been talking as an industry about a labour shortage for many years and it has, in recent months, become real,” Mollenhauer explained. “If those numbers are to be believed – and I think that’s as reliable a forecast as anybody produces in Canada – it points to a serious problem that will become worse,” he shared.

“We will, at a minimum, become more creative as a way of coping with the skilled labour shortage,” said Mollenhauer, be it through education or technology. Education can serve the industry by developing the next generation of talent while technology can help to streamline efficiency, eliminating some previously manual, time-consuming activities with faster, more effective tools, technologies and methodologies.

“Our industry has historically been slow to evolve and there hasn’t been enough innovation. Our industry doesn’t really embrace new technology and things are changing so rapidly that employers in our sector are overwhelmed with the volume of change,” Mollenhauer explained.

An important part of TCA’s role will be to help its members understand the new technologies available and help them make decisions that result in the adoption of technology that is most likely to be relevant to their operations. The same can be said about safety.

“A lot of things have happened in Ontario in recent years that are focused on improving safety protocols and ensuring our workforce gets home safety after work each day,” said Mollenhauer, and this is a shared priority that is high on all Ontario employers’ priority lists. Best practices are readily shared, even amongst competitors who know that a collaborative approach to safety improves competitiveness.

For Mollenhauer, “We’re beginning to realize that doing something safely is more productive and efficient, so the benefits are many-fold.” Safety is number one for the industry and has been a priority for some time. In fact, he credits the Greater Toronto Area with having a safety culture unlike anything he has seen anywhere in the world.

“You can pass legislation around safety and that has an effect: it forces people who might not otherwise attach enough importance to be tracked and monitored. It’s the safety culture that is changing and what’s having the biggest difference. That’s why employers are willingly sharing their protocols and best practices: everybody wants to do the right thing for the greater good of the industry,” he said.

In Ontario, Safety Group Programs, one of which is run by TCA, and COR™ certification have gained a lot of traction in recent years and according to Mollenhauer, “COR™ in particular is fast becoming a standard, it’s fast becoming a requirement, but there are more and more companies that are doing it proactively before it becomes a requirement. People are doing it because they want to, not because they have to.”

Mollenhauer and employers across Ontario share the view that when it comes to safety, “It will never be enough. It’s a process and not an event,” which means that in order to promote and protect safety and a safety culture the industry will need to remain ever vigilant and continue to identify areas of improvement proactively to ensure worker safety on worksites everywhere. In an effort to support and promote safety TCA has dedicated the entire month of May as #TCASafetyMonth. All month long, TCA shares social content that is aimed at promoting a strong safety culture and best practices. For more on #TCASafetyMonth you can follow TCA @TCA_Connect.

“The market, when you look at total construction, 2018 was just a tiny bit slower than 2017 – obviously both extraordinary years. In 2016, I think we had 12 billion in building permits and that went to 14.7 billion in 2017. In 2018, it was around the 13.6 billion range, so a tiny bit slower than 2017, but still one of the busiest construction markets in the world. That it continues to be a super-heated market is an understatement,” explained Mollenhauer.

Where potential is boundless, challenges are many. Changing legislation at the various levels of government, efforts from municipalities to reduce construction-related noise and congestion – two by-products of an industry that is necessary to build the cities we call home – and labour- and market-related issues don’t make it easy to remain competitive, which makes organizations like TCA more relevant than ever.

Members are glad to have the support and resources of the TCA to ensure the hard problems are being addressed. One change that members can expect is an overhaul of TCA’s electronic plans room platform, a platform that is offered to members to simplify the bidding process. Already a great resource, the organization is looking to improve it further to make it even more user-friendly.

The organization continues to advocate for its members, assisting them while they navigate the many hurdles and opportunities in the market to drive competitiveness, success and longevity, and the strength of the industry and the greater economy.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

December 6, 2019, 9:08 AM EST