July 5, 2019
Every year, we ask readers of Construction Canada to weigh in on the current state of the country’s design/building industry and where they think it is going next.
This year, we had responses from every province, as well as the territories. With 391 respondents, Ontario is home to a majority of our readers. This is followed by Alberta and British Columbia. The gender gap appears to have narrowed slightly as women represent 25 per cent of participants, a three per cent increase from 2018.
A significant age gap still exists—more than half of those surveyed are over 50, while only 14 per cent are under 35.
Changes are visible in the occupational longevity category. Nearly half of the respondents have been in the business for 10 to 29 years, the section that grew the most in 2019. In the past, the majority of the participants have been in the industry for more than 30 years.
However, mobility among employees is similar to previous years—54 per cent have been with the current employer for less than a decade.
Architects form the bulk of the participants. Specifiers, engineers, and project managers are well represented, too.
A balancing act
While the average Canadian works 35 hours weekly, 50 per cent of our survey participants are on the job for more than 40 hours. Fortunately, 78 per cent of the respondents are happy with their work–life balance.
When it came to discussing job satisfaction, respondents mentioned it was not always about the money. They also cited flexible hours, the ability to work from home, opportunities for design innovations, mentoring, and travel, short commute, and weeknights and weekends free of work.
Who makes what?
The following charts show the percentage of respondents in each salary range for specific job titles.
Relevance of social media
When it comes harnessing social media for professional uses like networking or research, readers were all for the various platforms. However, privacy was a big concern for many of the participants.
One mechanical estimator felt “it is the easiest way of getting the word out there if anyone is looking to hire talent as they get prospects from a bigger pool.”
“I like the instant updates on seminars, achievements and articles of interest in LinkedIn,” said a project manager from Alberta.
A construction specification representative from Alberta loved the “ability to reach a large breadth of contacts quickly,” but was concerned about media supplier security.
His female counterpart said it helps “expand my business and make new contacts.”
An Ontario architect was wary that “social media can distort people’s skills.”
Some of the respondents do not find social media useful and said there were “too many forms of communication and not enough person-to-person contact.”
“There are plenty of opportunities, the main problem is that one has to learn to navigate through these apps on one’s own and the learning can take time and is also conducive to errors,” said a consultant from Ontario.
A construction specification representative cautioned that while social media is “a good communication channel to increase awareness on relevant topics, it is getting to a point where the posts are not all legit but corrupted by the ‘marketing’ aspect of the industry. If I wanted to hear propaganda, I would go to a tradeshow and read brochures and ads.”
Aside from work/life balance, there were quite a few reoccuring themes when we asked what frustrated the participants at the office. One Ontario business developer expressed her angst at the “inequality for women in construction.”
This was echoed by an Ontario design and specification manager. She wrote, “How women are still looked at in this industry, it has come a long way…but you still encounter the silly person from time to time.”
A B.C. architect had a similar answer: “Gender equality–women have to work twice as much to prove themselves for less money than my male colleagues.”
Apart from gender inequality in the construction industry, respondents were concerned about the state of the economy.
An Alberta architect said, “The economic downturn has reduced our professional opportunities locally.”
“Satisfying spreadsheets rather than meeting the client’s expectations,” wrote a project manager from Ontario.
Government red tape was also cited as a source of frustration by the participants. A Saskatchewan project manager expressed his ire at the “current wage freeze imposed by the provincial government for nonunion members.”
There were specifiers who complained about “unreasonable expectations from general contractors (GCs).”
A project manager was concerned about “customers selecting contractors without project specifications and making a decision based on price.”
“The diminishing quality and availability of skilled tradespeople” was another concern.
Unrealistic project timelines and the tendency to value-engineer were also mentioned.
Green and BIM projects decline
The usage of building information modelling (BIM) has dipped in 2019. This time, only 39 per cent of participants say their firm uses it on more than a quarter of all projects. Last year, that number was 44.
In terms of sustainability, 19 per cent of respondents said they work on projects directly related to green design targets more than half the time, down by four per cent from last year.
Predicting the future
Judging by the survey, many in the design/construction industry have a right to be optimistic—only nine per cent see the next five years as particularly troubling. After all, 62 per cent say the last half-decade meant either increased or steady profitability.
That is not to suggest there are not any concerns, of course. The tariffs imposed on aluminum and steel by the United States affected many of the participant’s work.
Further, “economic downturn has reduced government transfer payments to fund municipal projects,” said a project manager from Alberta.
“The economy is not doing very well. Slow economy equals not much building,” suggested a project estimator.
A Winnipeg VDC co-ordinator “saw a drop in commercial permits due to uncertainty in the market.”
“Low Canadian dollar has raised building cost as well as increased government regulation,” wrote a building designer from British Columbia.
An Ontario architect felt, “the cost of construction has gone up so quickly, institutional project budgets are simply not keeping up. Even costing reports, if they are more than a few months old, are grossly underestimated.”
On the bright side is this note from a Québec architect: “We are having more projects now because the government of Québec is investing a lot in schools. The existing schools are not enough for the growing population.”
We also asked what could be the single biggest factor impacting design/construction firms over the next few years. Here are some of the important considerations:
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