Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) chief executive officer Sean Strickland is saying his final goodbyes to colleagues as he wraps up eight years promoting the unionized ICI construction sector in the province.
The Waterloo resident, 55, leaves the position today (April 21) and has only this weekend to contemplate achievements with the OCS and gird himself for his next challenge as director of business development and industry relations with the contractor Pomerleau. He starts with his new firm April 24.
The OCS is a joint labour-management organization and Strickland seems to have earned respect from both sides of the table, from both trade unions and unionized contractors.
"From what I saw, he did good work there, he was very good at promoting and modernizing the various trades and providing information to the industry," said Mike Gallagher, business manager of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. "And one of the things I liked, he didn’t shy away from the word ‘union.’ It shouldn’t be treated like a dirty word. It’s a positive thing. So hats off to him."
David St. Louis, executive director of the Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Guild, and an OCS board member representing management, commented, "I think Sean has done a really good job in terms of elevating the OCS to where it’s at."
"He’s collaborative. He is really good at getting people to work together without being aggressive. He is one of those guys who has that ‘it,’ in terms of getting people to work together."
David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association, said, "Sean certainly brought the secretariat’s profile to a new level. He knows the industry well and is a natural promoter. Pomerleau is fortunate to have him on board."
In a recent interview, Strickland reflected on his original goals upon taking the job and the progress that has been made since.
"I think there were multiple objectives," he said. "The challenge with the OCS, there are internal, within the family, stakeholder relations that needed to be enhanced and reinvigorated and external relationships to help with the profile of the OCS and help shine some light on our research projects and research capabilities.
"And developing the brand a little bit more so it would be more recognizable and the OCS would be a more trusted entity for our research and observations about the construction industry in the province of Ontario.
"The OCS is in good shape going forward."
Under Strickland’s tenure the OCS added the Construction Confidence Survey, which gauges contractors’ estimates of prospects for growth. There were also broader tools and a database package developed to help unions during the collective bargaining process. He believes the confidence survey has given the OCS respect and exposure outside the unionized construction sector, while the new programs for bargaining have proved successful as well.
"We all know our stakeholders do the heavy lifting when it comes to bargaining but we were able to provide them with some tools to help with bargaining so that was an important objective of the OCS as well," he said.
"In the past 20 years, our industry has really stabilized when it comes to lost man-hours from strikes and/or lockouts and I think that is a really strong testament to the people that are involved in the bargaining and the great job that they do."
Other high-profile programs Strickland has helped bring along include the Future Building conference and the State of the Industry and Outlook Conference. The former is intended to attract young people to the industry and this year’s event scheduled for Ottawa in May, is looking like a big hit, with 7,000 registered, Strickland noted. It’s an important program, he said, but these days he also emphasizes that the industry has to start paying more attention elsewhere on the skills spectrum.
"The big challenge going forward is going to be on project management, project director, supervisory capacity," said Strickland. "I think in order for the industry to successfully deliver these large projects, that area is as much of a pinchpoint as the supply of labour is."
Looking ahead, the father of two said he feels he is joining Pomerleau with enough runway left in his career to make an impact, and he also intends to continue to keep active in his community in his part-time gig as a regional councillor for the Region of Waterloo.
"I have tremendously enjoyed my time at the secretariat," said Strickland. "I have really appreciated the support of a fantastic working board and a great staff team and all the people and business acquaintances and friends that I have met in my tenure and I hope to see those relationships continue and strengthen as I change roles.
"It is a hard-working industry and a fun industry too. I just love the construction industry and I feel the future is very bright for construction in the province of Ontario."