Every year, we reach out to the readers of Construction Canada and ask them about their thoughts on the country’s construction industry.
This, of course, is the sector responsible for designing, creating, and maintaining our built environment, whether that is condo towers and mixed-use mid-rises or hospitals, schools, and offices, or highways, bridges, and dams.
The magazine reaches all sorts of design/construction experts across the nation, but it is also the official publication of Construction Specifications Canada (CSC), a multidisciplinary group committed to the ongoing development and delivery of quality education programs and services for the betterment of the construction community.
Part of this association’s spirit can be found in the concept of diverse professions—from architects, engineers, and specifiers to project managers and contractors to contract administrators, owners, and product manufacturers—coming together for a greater good.
Getting to know the participants
This year, more than 500 people from every part of the country shared insight into where the industry is, and where it may be going. And much of that insight came backed with quite a few years in the field—just under half of all participants have been working for a quarter-century or longer.
Almost a third of all survey respondents identified themselves as “architects.” Given the wide range of roles in the design/construction workforce, it was unsurprising the second-highest category was ‘other,’ with 18 per cent. (This was followed by project managers, engineers, and construction specification representatives and material suppliers.) Interestingly, those calling themselves ‘specifiers’ dropped to only five per cent—three points lower than last year.
Parsing the paycheque
As this survey aggregates data from various job types and levels of experience, it can be difficult to get an accurate picture of what you, as an individual, ‘should’ be making. Still, the number of participants pulling in more than $100,000 annually jumped from 25 to 35 per cent. Getting paid involves putting in the hours—half are working 41 hours or more, while the Canadian average is between 35 and 37.5.
Employment is more than just gross income, though. Company-provided benefits cited by our readers included paid vacation days (82 per cent), sick leave (71 per cent), and memberships in professional associations (64 per cent).
A hard look at the firms
Despite the average long-term experience mentioned, most readers—a full two-thirds—have been with their current company 14 years or less. Still, an impressive 25 per cent have remained at the same firm for more than two decades. This suggests the buildings industry is flexible enough to allow either consistency or constant change— whatever you’re looking for.
The firms themselves ranged in size—16 per cent had more than 500 employees, while 22 per cent had less than five. Average project values tended to be similarly split across the board. However, responses were more uniform when it came to company profitability over the last five years—only 19 per cent saw a decline.
Whether working at a big firm or going solo out of a home office, many of our respondents shared similar gripes—and a lot of the time, it was about each other. Project managers cited incompetent tradespeople, architects complained of manufacturer reps, while engineers and contractors gave examples of not getting along. Sometimes, it was even about direct colleagues—a few wrote in, complaining about a lack of office camaraderie or the frequency of being tossed under metaphorical buses.
Many complained about those who did not read or respect the construction documentation,
but one Alberta manufacturing rep/material supplier had a different take:
“There are too many poor specifications from those that think they know what they are doing but have little care to research products for construction or suitability to the design. Then, they try to address issues with little time left in the tender period. The subs assume the spec is gospel, and when it’s wrong they can’t understand the process and time to get it corrected is more than an hour before closing.”
Other issues garnering mention included:
- endless conflict due to scope gaps;
- unreasonably low fees for services;
- stupid competitors;
- curriculum of design-related education in schools;
- red tape with various provincial and local governments; and
- stagnant salaries.
Another issue that came up was the disparity between men’s and women’s salaries and overall treatment.
“There’s a lack of respect given on the construction site due to gender—women need to work hard to gain credibility and respect a male counterpart would be granted regardless,” said a B.C. architect. “Women have to prove that they are capable, while men are considered capable until they prove they are not. The double standard is better than 20 years ago, but it is still there.”
For our study, 77 per cent of participants were male, while 23 per cent were female.
Lines are drawn when it comes to social media. Some, like one B.C. project assistant, pointed out;
“You can connect with people all over the world and gain information about different techniques for doing things, as well as learn about different cultures.”
Others called it something “only kids pay any attention to” or said it only “exploits use of bad language, poor grammer [sic], and intolerance.”
Professional use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube isn’t going away. Already, the majority of our participants said they use social media for work purposes—whether networking, researching, or sharing success. One engineer had a salient take: “It will change the way we all do business because it provides instant access to an infinite body of information. But we now have to learn how to use this information properly.”
How big is the BIM boom?
On the face of it, building information modelling (BIM) may look like it is still in its nascent form. After all, despite all the potential benefits in terms of co-ordination, collaboration, and efficiency, half of respondents say their firm uses it on less than 10 per cent of its projects. However, 36 per cent of respondents said the software-driven project delivery paradigm comes into play for more than a quarter of their projects. That’s a number steadily rising each year—last time, it was only 29 percent.
Is ‘going green’ going strong?
In terms of sustainability, only 22 per cent of respondents said they work on projects directly related to green design targets more than half the time. The number remains basically consistent with years past.
Predicting the future
With this year’s survey, people tended to be optimistic about the future. Just under 90 per cent forecasted the next five years will be the same or better for their firm or company. As for what single factor would have the biggest impact during that time, the answers ranged from highly personal (family and personal goals) to industry-wide (national economies, and oil).
An Ontario architect had concerns about where things were going:
“The business of architecture has become a race to the bottom. To survive, we must act more and more like contractors. And I don’t say that with any malice—they have been working in the low-bid-wins market for generations and are just way better at it than the design industry.”
Thinking happy thoughts
Compared to five years ago, a full 80 per cent said they were either just as satisfied or more so. Reasons cited for this career contentment included professional development, better stability, and career changes (some liked the prospect of more pay while others were comfortable with reduced salaries that accompanied reduced responsibilities and stress).
“I finished school five years ago, and in that time I have been with three companies—each one being better than the last—and my wages have continue to increase. That has brought me a great sense of career fulfilment as I enjoy what I do and I feel I’m well-compensated for doing a good job,” said an Ontario architectural technologist.
An Atlantic architect agreed:
“I love my job, I have job security, I love the company I work for, and I feel like they are supportive of my long-term plan.”