CCA 2023 – Construction leaders find inspiration in Tucson
By Adam FreillConstruction Leadership
Infrastructure investment, workforce challenges and technology took centre stage at this year’s Canadian Construction Association conference.
“It is our moral responsibility to lift others to success,” said Tareq Hadhad, CEO of Peace by Chocolate, during his opening keynote presentation at the Canadian Construction Association’s annual conference in Tucson, Ariz. More than 500 construction industry professionals attended the event, held in early March.
As refugees fleeing war in Syria, Hadhad’s family came to Canada in 2016 where they navigated barriers that many new Canadians face. His company, started in a modest residential kitchen, is now the third-largest employer in Antigonish, N.S.
“We didn’t come here to take jobs. We came here to create them,” he said, adding that his family are now proud Canadian citizens who use their story and values to give back both in Canada and abroad. Immigration is a hot topic for the construction industry, as companies look to address the country’s skills shortage, but the movement of new Canadians into waiting construction jobs is less than seamless, delegates heard.
“Prioritizing educational certifications does not help the construction sector,” explained Patrick McManus, executive director of the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association. He explained that the competition for workers from other countries is global, and Canada’s immigration system is often viewed as difficult to navigate, with challenges that work against the construction industry’s labour needs. His advice: “Give the provinces more say in the who they are bringing in.”
Looking at how construction companies can ready themselves for net-zero and green public procurement, Stephan Dery, of Public Services and Procurement Canada, outlined the federal government’s commitment to Net-Zero by 2050 and its influence on selection of materials. “Government infrastructure has always been a catalyst for change,” he said.
In another session, Jean-Pierre Gauthier of Peter Kiewit Sons ULC discussed approval processes as he cited a need for infrastructure works that will facilitate the movement of goods both within Canada and for export, stating, “You need to have a plan for the entire country.”
Discussing expectations for 2023 and 2024 during the CEO Roundtable, Silvy Wright of Northbridge Insurance stated, “I think we can all agree, there is a lot of uncertainty.”
She explained that a dip in GDP growth has elicited worries about recession, but also pointed out that Canada is the only G7 nation with a growing population. She expects the country’s low unemployment rate to help temper any potential recession. “I think Canada is very stable,” she said.
Procore’s Tooey Courtemanche explained that he leads most conversations with owners of construction companies with the question, “How are your backlogs?” Those, he said, have remained strong and healthy, despite labour shortages and inflation. “There’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance that happens,” he said. “If you read the news about all the stuff that’s happening, it sounds awful, but these folks are running their businesses, and they’re seeing that there are still areas of opportunity… Ultimately, there seems to be a fair amount of optimism about the future.”
Part of that future will involve greater reliance on technology, both in project management and in the materials and tools used to build these projects. Exoskeletons, an automated QA system, and environmentally friendly bricks were presented by three companies who are part of the association’s CONtact mentorship program during “The Innovators Pitch,” a competitive set of presentations won by Bio-Brick this year. “Tough, physical work can lead to high turnover and injuries,” stated Laurent Blanchet, CEO of Biolift, as he discussed the benefits of his company’s exoskeleton technology.
Bio-Brick Labs CEO Adrian Simone, whose company’s brick technology dramatically reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing bricks, explained, “We want to make green building as easy as possible for everyone. We want to build the future.”
Next year’s CCA conference will be held in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, from March 12 to 15.