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Three platforms for a healthy construction industry

Construction is the province’s economic backbone – but needs the right policy framework.

Eroding investor confidence, inconsistent infrastructure spending, workforce shortages and limited incentives to innovate due to the framework of project proposals are hurting the people who build British Columbia.

Construction is the backbone of the B.C. economy. In the decade ahead, the Canadian construction market is poised to become one of the ten largest in the world, driven primarily by the global demand for natural resources and the urgent need to modernize the country's aging public infrastructure. Leveraging this opportunity could create thousands and thousands of jobs and generate a substantial boost to the economy.

However, this growth can only be realized with the right policy framework.

First, investor confidence in British Columbia continues to be a major concern. Both international and national businesses continue to have projects stuck in regulatory limbo, preventing them from investing their significant financial resources and potentially chilling the interest of others.

Policies such as non-revenue-neutral carbon pricing and the NDP’s deals with their favoured unions don’t take into account the need for B.C. to remain competitive in the global economy. British Columbia must be a go-to place for job creators to invest in a variety of different types of projects, from bridges and highways to pipelines and water treatment plants. Policies proposed in legislation need to preserve the integrity and fairness of the competitive bid system, as well as strengthen investor confidence.

Second, infrastructure spending must be more consistent for the construction industry to grow with confidence. Continued sways in the funding of projects cause inefficiencies across the system and contribute to escalating labour costs, followed by livelihood-crippling layoffs.

This situation makes it difficult for the industry to retain apprentices, invest in innovation, or even stay afloat during lean years. This can be addressed by developing a 25-year plan, with a consistent and transparent yearly allocation of infrastructure funding.

Third, the construction industry is facing a serious workforce shortage as we brace for about 21 per cent of workers retiring in the next decade. The government has an opportunity to work with industry on re-positioning the image of construction as an inclusive sector with a choice of many rewarding careers.

Government should work with – not against – the many B.C. construction associations to develop a strategy to recruit, retain and re-train a diverse, skilled and tech-savvy workforce in order to keep this important economic sector healthy and competitive.

Fourth, the industry is adopting new technology, like drones, artificial intelligence and new materials, yet we still lag behind other industrialized countries in productivity, innovation and technology. The B.C. Government can accelerate progress by earmarking funding to support this area, as well as leveraging Canada's Infrastructure Bank to structure deals that allow for innovation, without adding this cost to the owner or the contractor. Incentives and support for the Canadian Construction Association’s request to fund co-op placements will impact and strengthen the industry's capacity.

Elected leaders must show leadership linking B.C.’s strength as a province to a healthy construction industry which creates jobs, injects socio-economic opportunities and life into our communities, and creates infrastructure critical to keeping our province moving forward.

Jack Davidson was the longtime president of the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association