Toronto Construction Association (TCA) Members’ Day panellist Roland Nicholls, of Milne and Nicholls, started in the construction industry in 1948.
Things looked a lot different back then.
"We built buildings with plumb bobs. We laid out buildings with steel squares. You couldn’t build a building without steel squares and a slide rule," he said. "We had a ‘computer’ — it was a six sided ruler and that’s what we used and believe me it worked."
The past, present and future of the construction industry was the topic of discussion at a panel that was held as part of the 23rd annual event on May 10 at the TCA Richmond Hill, Ont. office.
New technologies, collaborative models and creating a culture of change were key areas of discussion for the panellists during the event.
"If you want to run a successful business over the long term then you can’t ignore the challenges that we are facing as an industry," said Marcus Gillam, president of Gillam Group, adding the complexity of the projects construction companies are dealing with today is unprecedented. "We have to change ourselves, change our organizations, but it’s very difficult to do. I don’t think it’s ever been this difficult to do what we’re doing. So I think in order to survive you’ve got to think outside the box."
According to Gillam, innovation and relationships are fundamental to success and everyone in the organization has to buy in, which is not always an easy task.
"If you are going to try to innovate, you need to have the kind of culture that supports innovation. You want to have people following you who believe in the direction that they’re going in. It’s not just about people, it’s about creating that foundation to attract the right talent to your organization to be able to motivate people," said Gillam.
Markku Allison, director of engagement and innovation at Chandos Construction, said new technologies like Building Information Modeling, prefabrication and 3-D printing are becoming increasingly popular.
"A lot of you have probably already engaged in things like prefabrication but I think the future is where prefab is the rule, not the exception, where huge portions of our buildings will be built in controlled environments and then erected onsite," he explained.
Allison stated mechanization, such as robotics and drone technology, and new materials, such as flexible concrete, self-healing concrete and transparent aluminum, are also expected to become more prevalent.
As president of the Integrated Project Delivery Alliance, Allison is also a proponent of alternative building methods.
"The single biggest change that I see that will affect our industry is on the people side and on the culture side," said Allison. "Collaborative models are certainly our future and the success of those things relies entirely on changing the way we behave and interact."
While the construction industry has been criticized for decreasing productivity, he said that can be turned around with a change in behaviour and tools.
"We’re seeing more and more evidence that collaborative models of delivery are producing better outcomes for owners and the team participants," said Allison. "There are increases in output when we pursue things like lean construction techniques, the idea of continuous improvement or the enabling of digital technology to help us do our work better."
Since starting his career in the industry in 1978, Frank DeCaria, president and CEO of Eastern Construction, has seen many advances in technology on the jobsite, but at the end of the day the industry is about people, he said.
"We’re pushing the limits and technology, which is great, but it’s what’s between our ears, how we use our intellectual intelligence to really solve the challenges in a collaborative process," DeCaria noted. "I’ve been pushing the technology of our business because it is a need. If you don’t do it you’re just going to lag behind. These are tools for us to be better and meet the needs of our clients and build quality buildings on time in a lean type of process."
Adopting new techniques and methods within your organization can be a challenge, Allison pointed out.
"It needs to be presented as something that is replacing something you’re doing with bettered outcomes," said Allison. "Everybody in every one of our organizations is interested in doing things better."
If team members are shown a way to perform work that improves outcomes, he said, there is buy-in.
Nicholls concluded the talk with a message on the importance of training and apprenticeship.
"One of the most important things today is the training of our onsite staff and that goes down to bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians," he said "I don’t care about the computers and everything else, you still need a good staff on the site."