The Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) enters its 91st convention and AGM next month in a state of transition, with a focus squarely on the future.
That’s the message from ORBA’s new chief operating officer David Caplan, who will be presiding over the two-day event for the first year.
Caplan, Ontario’s first infrastructure minister, assumed the office Dec. 4. The convention will take place Feb. 5 and 6 at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
“The main theme is navigating the future,” Caplan said. “Obviously with the strong history of the organization and this being our 91st year, there is quite a significant and rich history that we are building on, but it is with the future in mind that this convention is being launched.”
Not only is much of the programming aimed at helping ORBA members cope with rapid change, the selection of the association’s new president also sends a signal that a new vision is being embraced, he said.
“It is noteworthy that this is the first time that the president of ORBA will be a woman,” said Caplan. “This is significant for our organization and for many in the construction world, which is typically male dominated. We are fortunate to have a leader like Marlene Yakabuski take on this role at this very exciting time.”
Yakabuski, currently ORBA’s first vice-president, rotates into the position currently occupied by Geoffrey Stephens. Caplan said Yakabuski, who’s the vice-president of corporate affairs for Bot Construction Group, was a driving force in planning the convention.
Caplan said planners aimed to give ORBA members tools to meet future challenges through both broad theoretical analysis and particular, industry-specific workshopping.
We are challenging the industry about where things are, what the context is, what the future is,
— David Caplan
Assisting on the big-picture side will by renowned futurist Jim Carroll, whose portfolio of blue chip clients includes NASA, Walt Disney Corporation, PGA of America, Mercedes Benz, DuPont and Lockheed Martin.
“He’ll talk about what are key trends, ideas, what are the things that are transforming our world,” said Caplan. “The theme that Jim is going to articulate is how change is affecting the construction world. What members are going to want to keep in mind to not be left behind.”
Caplan said Carroll will set the tone for sessions covering: dealing with reforms to construction liens, with reform expert Bruce Reynolds on hand to discuss the new Construction Act; how big data is important to the sector; future skills and training, with former provincial cabinet minister and consultant Sean Conway leading a discussion on the sector’s labour needs; women in construction; the Canada Infrastructure Bank; recoverable asphalt; reputation management; leadership models; and technological innovation as well as a variety of other topics.
The hottest issues in the past two years for the roadbuilding sector, stemming from the 2016 provincial auditor general’s report, have been quality of asphalt and, closely related, ORBA’s relationship with the provincial government on procurement matters. Caplan said ORBA and its members have been devoting much effort to improving their products and the convention will see an industry response unveiled, as two studies will be released and discussed.
“ORBA and our industry have invested significant resources and time, and we will be having updates from KPMG and TTI, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. They have done work for us and that possibly will be the session that will be the best attended,” he said. “It is not intended to refute, not intended to in any way challenge, but we are challenging the industry about where things are, what the context is, what the future is. It’s a roadmap to where we are going in future, around the quality issues that were raised.”
Another highlight, said Caplan, will be a presentation by new Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster, who will talk about project pipelines and letting ORBA members know what projects to expect on a regional basis.
From his point of view, Caplan said, the convention represents an opportunity to further integrate the Ontario Asphalt Pavement Council, formerly the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association, into ORBA following the associations’ October 2016 amalgamation. He was asked whether that merger might represent a precursor to others in future.
“I have been putting a great deal of time and effort to ensure that this joining will be a successful one,” Caplan said. “Who knows, this could become a model or a template for other ones but at this moment in time ensuring that success is of paramount importance.”