Anibal Valente, vice president, corporate, for PCL Constructors Inc., has come a long way since swinging hammers with his carpenter father as a teenager.
Valente is set to take over as chair of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) this month, the first ever chair from PCL. He brings knowledge from every level of the industry.
"Construction came to me as a natural thing," he said.
He and his father would build homes on the side after school and during the summers. In Grade 10, he decided he wanted to become an engineer.
"I thought I was going to build the largest building in the world," he said.
His dreams were put on hold after graduating from the University of British Columbia in the late 1970s, when he struggled to find an engineering firm that was hiring.
Firms kept telling him to try Poole Construction, which later changed its name to PCL.
He was hired after showing up at a jobsite asking for an engineering position and persistently calling the district manager for more than a month.
He worked in the trenches as a field engineer and surveyor on Metro Vancouver projects such as Lansdowne Centre, Coquitlam Centre, Cathedral Place and the Pan Pacific Hotel.
"It’s been a great experience having spent those years in the trenches pounding nails and digging ditches," Valente said.
"Construction gets done out in the field. Construction gets done on site. It’s the carpenters, it’s the labourers, the people working on the site, that get things done. It’s not us, the engineers, or the project managers in the office doing the paperwork that build projects."
Valente first got involved with the CCA while working with construction associations in Regina and B.C. He served on boards, off and on, for about 15 years and recently was named the CCA’s first national vice-chair.
He said the industry faces many issues, such as payment, succession planning and held-up government projects. One issue that he intends to champion as chair is the growing labour shortage.
The CCA has been lobbying the government to allow more temporary foreign workers to help fill in gaps.
"We don’t have the population," Valente said. "Even if every young kid that was interested in construction wanted to go into the trades, we just don’t have enough people."
He would like to see CCA members begin to hire more apprentices, something he believes is critical to keep the industry going.
"We have some good apprenticeship programs across Canada, but we are not hiring enough," he said.
While the industry faces challenges, there is also opportunity. Valente said he is excited to see the development of construction technology.
"Our industry has been labeled, and I think incorrectly, as a low tech kind of industry and it isn’t," he said.
He noted that while sometimes the industry can be slow to adapt, superintendents now walk around with tablets and many projects have gone paperless.
He mentioned a recent project in Vernon, B.C. that was made possible by GPS.
"We need to continue to promote technology, not only to enable more efficiency, but also as a way of attracting young people to our industry," he said.
"Technology is changing so much and we have to stay on top of it."