What We Learned from 2020
By Chris Atchison, President, BCCA
The construction industry is used to dueling. In fact, we thrive on it. We go where others don’t, every day, facing down myriad risks inherent in the work we do. Whether its extreme weather, physical hazards on a job site, opaque procurement documents in the office, late payments, labour or supply shortages, equipment malfunctions, biased political moves, new taxes, tariffs, or demonstrators, we face challenge every day. And we prevail. And we build.
Risk, carefully calculated and balanced, is part of the construction life. Each day, as owners, as employers, as skilled tradespeople, we look it in the face and weigh our choices based on experience, knowledge, and instinct. We know that the decisions we make affect our families, the projects for which we hold responsibility, the workers we employ or work alongside, and the British Columbians who will live and work inside the structures we build.
If there are miscalculations along the way, we learn from them. It’s when we achieve our goals and stand back to recognize a job well done, that the payoff comes.
This has been a year for risk like no other. We added pandemic to our list of challenges.
And we learned a few things.
Most obviously, we learned how to manage the risks of COVID-19 on our job sites and continued as essential workers throughout the pandemic. This doesn’t mean that our industry escaped unscathed. Contractors already struggling to make ends meet were pushed into closure, projects were cancelled or delayed, costs got bigger and margins smaller, workers lost their jobs, a handful of sites had COVID outbreaks. It was stressful. But overall, we iterated, we kept going, and we did it safely.
We learned how well we can collaborate. The level of competition in this industry is legendary and can be our Achilles heel: sharing what works for us helps our competitors, and so it doesn’t come easily. But during COVID-19 that melted away like the snow in spring. Larger contractors with more resources willingly published protocol guidelines and best practises widely. Industry associations and stakeholder groups came together to amplify each other’s work, everyone pitched in, communicated, and served for the greater good.
British Columbians learned something about the construction industry. Thousands of employees from other sectors had to stay home, and if they walked their dogs past a jobsite they saw our teams going to work every day. They saw our skilled tradespeople, deemed essential, continue to earn, and contribute and provide for their families. The role of our industry as the #1 employer in BC’s goods sector, our massive contribution to the provincial economy, was on display, and we have benefitted from that. Despite the challenges of this year, we have seen an influx of new entrants through BCCA’s workforce development programs such as the Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP).
We learned how quickly governments can act when it determines there is a need to do so, but also how ideology can get in the way. When there is a protection that is required to secure the health and safety of a large portion of the population, and when there is a political benefit to acting, there is no force so strong as that of political will. It will move mountains to achieve what it seeks, and this year that resulted in a stronger NDP government for BC.
To close, I want to leave you with what the team at BCCA learned – or, more accurately, had reaffirmed. The uniqueness of our role as the only provincial representative of the industry at large. We are an apolitical, non-partisan organization that seeks only to ensure the productivity and resilience of BC’s industrial, commercial, and institutional construction industry. We are here to work collaboratively with the governments that the voters choose. Ideology has no role.
I’m going to say it straight. BCCA is here for the employers, regardless of their labour affiliation. Every day, as President, I have the opportunity to discuss issues like prompt payment, compulsory trades, community benefits, and industry culture with contractors who use union workers – whether they be Building Trades or Progressive Unions – and those who run an open shop. And here’s the thing: for the most part, they agree on the big issues. They want the same things. And they look to us to help them get there.
So, we’re all heading into 2021, in many ways stronger and smarter than we were before. We don’t know what new risks are in store, or what fresh opportunities are on the horizon. But we do know that infrastructure spending is one of the main keys to restarting the economy post-COVID-19, and we know our industry is ready to get the job done.
BCCA is working with our provincial government to represent you. To get Prompt Payment legislation passed, to ensure that skills training is accessible via a system that is relevant and productive, and to improve the culture of our industry so that all workers can thrive regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or race.
We know that you will be here too, staring down new challenges and risks, and together we’ll get the job done.
I send you all my best wishes for a safe, healthy, and rewarding 2021. You deserve it.