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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Resilience of the construction industry critical for Ontario’s COVID-19 recovery

Wade Gayowsky
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Resilience of the construction industry critical for Ontario’s COVID-19 recovery

Alongside nearly every other industry that exists globally, perhaps the construction industry is one of the better suited when it comes to weathering the storm that is COVID-19.

In April 2020, the Ontario Construction Secretariat surveyed approximately 200 contractors from across Ontario regarding the impact COVID-19 is having on the industry. Approximately 98 per cent of respondents reported that their business has been impacted by the coronavirus to some extent.

Contractors have been forced into a new reality; one that amplifies concerns surrounding the health and safety of their workforce and is closely followed by uncertainty pertaining to a global recession and productivity.

Add to that list supply chain disruptions, keeping firms in business and the ability to meet contractual deadlines, and you can begin to understand some of the challenges being faced by the building and construction industry today.

Now more than ever, it is the responsibility of our industry to build, repair and maintain the critical infrastructure that our communities rely on to sustain themselves.

So much of the knowledge, skill, agility and unique spirit that exists in construction is needed to create and power the world around us. It is this combination that lends itself to a special type of resilience that runs deep and carries builders through even the toughest of times.

As the past has shown us before, building and construction is somewhat protected from recession and unprecedented global events such as COVID-19 by its nature. Our industry is cyclical and essential. As long as people are living in homes, relying on transit and transportation, utilizing institutions and seeking services, investments in buying, selling, upgrading, renovating and fixing critical provincial infrastructure will remain.

Following the 2008 recession, the construction industry was able to bounce back in a big way. When our economy finally began to see signs in improvement in 2010, employment in all industries grew 1.4 per cent, while employment in construction advanced to 4.9 per cent.

Despite the challenging times we face today, the strength of our industry has been demonstrated and continues to be apparent.

There is a reason construction activities were deemed an essential service to preserve life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning while provincial governments closed down major parts of our economy across the country.

Our industry adapted quickly, recognizing that with the essential service designation comes significant responsibility to ourselves, each other and our communities.

We’ve seen construction professionals both on and off the jobsite respond with new policies and procedures to ensure that every one of us returns home safe at the end of every day.

Many construction companies have gone beyond the health and safety directives set out by our provincial minister of health, putting even more stringent safety protocols in place. The new rules of doing business prioritize health and safety more than ever before.

Our jobsites now include enhanced health screening measures, increased sanitation, the use of masks and PPE and accessibility restrictions. For those not onsite, we are staying home to ensure the safety of not only ourselves, but our communities.

We have seen our share of challenges in the response phase and thanks to the leadership and commitment to safety that the industry has demonstrated, we have been able to adapt.

As we move forward into recovery, these factors must remain constant so we can preserve our people and our communities and continue to deliver on the promise and opportunity that has defined our industry for generations.

We must continue fulfilling our duties and jobs with clear thinking, bold action and innovative ways of doing business. By doing so, we can aid in setting a standard for a national pattern of recovery and inspire other industries to follow suit.

In these unprecedented times when almost everything seems uncertain, we can take comfort in the fact that throughout all of our known history, building and construction has continued; it has evolved and it has endured. Despite every roadblock, the industry always rises to the challenge and helps the world pick up the pieces — and build new ones.

Wade Gayowsky is executive vice-president of Stonerise Construction, a commercial, highrise and multi-residential developer and builder based out of Southwestern Ontario.

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