The British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) has published an industry study that reveals the province’s construction sector is lagging behind other jurisdictions when it comes to innovation.
"B.C. is a leader in green building, wood, and procurement technologies, but we have catching up to do in most areas of construction innovation," said Manley McLachlan, president of the BCCA. "Construction is an extremely competitive industry; employers are holding their cards close. The result is that we’re great at on-the-job problem solving but too often missing the big picture."
He explained that more collaboration is needed, noting there are countless reports stating construction invests less in innovation than other industries. But it is difficult to quantify, as each uses a different method of measurement.
It’s also difficult because innovations that make a business more competitive aren’t often immediately shared with the industry.
"When someone institutes an innovative practice, they do that because they build in a competitive environment," McLachlan said. "It helps their business. There is not a lot of reporting out that is captured until after it has been introduced."
He noted the study helps define innovation and establishes a baseline for measuring it going forward.
According to the study, the scope of innovation in the construction industry is broad and applies to everything from building products, materials and systems to construction techniques, equipment and business operations.
"The U.K. and Scotland are leaders in construction innovation and provide a good example of where B.C. should try to be and what it takes to get there," said Helen Goodland of Brantwood Consulting, who led the study for BCCA.
"A cohesive innovation strategy clarifies the value and benefits of investing in innovation. Owners need to understand what it will take to deliver the projects of tomorrow."
The report identifies three top priority actions that will put the province on track to be a leader in construction innovation, including the launch of an Innovation Council and an action plan to guide ongoing conversations with government, academia and industry members in B.C. The third recommendation is a focus on project procurement.
"Procurement issues are a significant impediment to innovation and productivity" said Warren Perks, BCCA vice-president of industry practices.
"Until we have a cutting edge procurement process that ensures risk is balanced, contracts are promptly paid, and employers can compete fairly, we risk our ability to build a sustainable future. B.C. leads in the technology solution with BidCentral, but the picture isn’t complete."
Construction procurement is a major focus for public owners such as government ministries, school districts, health authorities, as well as private owners. As international competition for large projects intensifies, the report calls for a shift from a culture of "lowest bid" to a focus increasingly on quality and "whole life" value.
McLachlan explained that current procurement practices leave little latitude for companies to present innovative solutions.
"The cost of materials, an aging workforce, lack of skilled workers, and sustainability are the big issues for employers" says Alan Fletcher of AFC Construction in Comox. "Innovation is at the heart of solving it all."
McLachlan also explained the study recognized that innovation affects different sized companies in different ways.
"Smaller guys don’t have the resources to break down process that maybe the big guys do, that’s important."
"There is also a recognition that innovation crosses a lot of areas related to industry."
He added there is an evolution that is occurring in the industry and it needs to know how to best react to it.
"I think we are at the edge now of determining our next steps and taking advantage of innovation in the industry," he said citing progress in wood technology and modular construction. The BCCA plans to take its findings to the Canadian Construction Association’s innovation committee meeting next month in New Orleans.