Surveying the 2020 design/construction landscape

July 27, 2020

Photo courtesy Jake White Photography[1]
Photo courtesy Jake White Photography

For several years, Construction Canada has conducted an annual salary survey, asking readers about the state of the country’s construction industry. This, of course, is the sector responsible for designing, creating, and maintaining our built environment, whether it is condo towers and mixed-use mid-rises, or hospitals, schools, and offices.

Construction Canada is the official publication of the Construction Specifications Canada (CSC). An interdisciplinary association, CSC brings together professionals from across the building industry. Its membership includes architects, specifiers, engineers, project managers, product manufacturers’ representatives, contractors, and other experts across the architecture, engineering, and construction spectrum.

Our readers are not necessarily CSC members. In fact, over 83 per cent of survey respondents do not have a CSC professional designation. However, having such a wide cross-section of participants offers a bigger perspective on the current state of the industry. We asked questions on everything from income and social media to job satisfaction and future predictions. From coast to coast, around hundreds of you answered, sharing your insight into where we are now…and where we might be headed.

This year, we had responses from every province, as well as the territories. With 182 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 26 per cent of participants, a one per cent increase from 2019.

A significant age gap still exists—more than half of those surveyed are over 50, while only 17 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—58 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.

Who makes what?

The following charts show the percentage of respondents in each salary range for specific job titles.


A balancing act

While the average Canadian works 35 hours weekly, 42 per cent of our survey participants are on the job more than 40 hours. Fortunately, 77 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, weeknights and weekends free of work.

Relevance of social media

[10]When it comes harnessing social media for professional uses like networking or research, readers were all for the various platforms.

“It is a way to keep up with colleagues and projects of which I might otherwise not be aware,” described an architect from Ontario.

“Cross-exposure to design challenges, sharing of knowledge, products and experiences,” said an architect from Saskatchewan.

“I like the immediacy of new products being available,” added a specifier from British Columbia.

However, the spread of misleading information was a huge issue to many respondents.

“The rapid way in which misinformation is spread and treated as the truth” on social media was concerning to an Alberta researcher.

“It has become an avenue of expression of all sorts of things and got corrupted. I purposely don’t expend as much time as used to on social media because of the superficiality and subjective character of most of the material posted,” said an Ontario product representative.

This was echoed by an architect from Saskatchewan. “Concern is misinformation, hard to know what is true and what is not. Truly annoying are ‘reviews’ of products or companies. It is very hard to trust those. Opportunities for promotion are there, but I prefer in-person contact (Well, I did, until COVID-19…),” she said.

Projects that make use of building information modelling

Projects directly related to green design targets

Do you personally use social media for professional uses like networking or research?

Expressing frustration

Over the last five years, has your company’s profitability increased or declined?[11]
Over the last five years, has your company’s profitability increased or declined?

Aside from work/life balance, there were quite a few recurring themes when we asked what frustrated you at the office. Government red tape was a source of frustration for many participants. “Bureaucracy, slow response from other stakeholders in the business, lack of thorough review and input, decision-making or changes from others, developers knowingly asking for too much in terms of product and schedule,” said an Ontario-based architect.

His sentiments are echoed by a landscape architect. She says, “Not enough hours in the day. The bureaucratic speed at which change happens, never first adapters in government.”

Some of the respondents were not pleased with the workload. “I have more work than time to do it in, and overtime is not approved often,” said an architect from Atlantic Canada.

Equity between genders was another sore point. “Being taken seriously in the construction/design field as a woman. Also, the architecture salary is so low compared to our engineering or planning counterparts,” said an Ontario architect.

“Men and women are not treated equally, men are paid more and get better opportunities,” said an architect from British Columbia.

Differing communication styles was another source of frustration. “Communication styles vary greatly by region of country,” commented a material supplier from Ontario.

“Communication breakdown between head office and the field” was a challenge for a project manager from Ontario.

BIM and green projects

The use of building information modelling (BIM) has dipped this year. This time, only 26 per cent of participants say their firm uses it on more than a quarter of all projects. Last year, that number was 38.

In terms of sustainability, only 11 per cent of respondents said they work on projects directly related to green design targets more than half the time, down from
27 per cent from last year.

Predicting the future

How do you think the next five years will be for your company?[14]
How do you think the next five years will be for your company?

Judging by the survey, many in the design/construction industry have a right to be cautiously optimistic despite the economic downturn COVID-19 has caused—only 21 per cent see the next five years as particularly troubling. Further, 55 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 pandemic has paralyzed the economy, and a lot of projects are therefore not in development.

Additionally, “oil and gas, a big driver of western economy, took a hit without any replacement industries,” said a Saskatchewan architect.

“A lot less companies are looking to undertake a large scale construction project,” said a contract administrator from the Prairies.

“We have had eight major industrial businesses close around our area in the past 15 years due to globalization and U.S. firms buying out Canadian firms then closing them,” noted a project manager from Atlantic Canada.

“Some areas (prairies in particular) have seen dramatic decreases in both private and public investment due to regulatory policies that discourage investment. Coastal areas are still seeing an influx of off-shore investments in real-estate that is keeping the land values high,” said a material supplier form Alberta.

“An increased number of projects are not getting started past feasibility, or with substantial reductions in scope. Businesses, developers, and government appear to be forecasting a downturn and are reluctant to move forward,” sums up an engineer from Ontario.

On the bright side is this note from an Ontario architect: “The local market is very strong, especially for housing.”

“Our company still has maintained a strong workload through the change in the economy and we will be stronger once it comes back. Right now we are in an economic correction period,” said a specifier from Alberta.

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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