Three BTY Regional Directors share insights on what they see as our industry’s top issues—and how they’re responding.
Recently ranked North America’s top ranked Lenders Technical Advisor in 2016 (and in sixth place globally up from 28th the year before), BTY has opened eight new offices internationally over the past two years. This rapid growth is driving the property and infrastructure advisory firm to grapple daily with challenges facing companies committed to growth in Canada’s, and the world’s, expanding construction industries. BTY now serves private and public sector clients worldwide through 18 offices, eight of them across Canada.
Three of the firms Directors: Darren Cash, Regional Director, Eastern Region; Michael Gabert, Regional Director, Prairies Region; and Connor Falls, Regional Director, Pacific Region, offer their views on industry issues that keep them up at night.
#1: Competition for top talent
“Competition for the best and brightest Professional Quantity Surveyors and Construction Estimator Certified professionals is intense,” says Darren Cash. “There is a sizeable and ever-growing scarcity of qualified professionals in Canada. Every firm in our profession that wants to grow feels the lack acutely. We’re no exception.”
A major reason why demand for qualified PQSs and CECs has far outstripped the supply is the robust growth of the Canadian construction industry. It has been expanding steadily—apart from a slight dip in 2015–2016 that was due in large part to the sharp decline in oil patch investment—with average annual growth of 3.6% during the preceding four years.1 Another driver of competition is that the post-secondary system is not structured to provide enough ‘ready-made’ candidates to go through the PQS qualification process.
As construction increases, so will demand
The competition for top talent won’t be abating anytime soon with existing multi-year, multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects under way in the transportation and energy sectors. There is also much more to come under federal and provincial government plans for large infrastructure investments across the country in general, and particularly in renewable energy.
With higher immigration and higher foreign investment helping to sustain demand for residential, commercial and institutional building, Canada’s construction industry can look forward to continued robust growth. For our industry, this means battling to attract and retain the top talent that will help individual firms grow. What’s the answer? In the short term, importing talent is an option, but an expensive one. Another is paying higher salaries, but that’s only part of the solution.
Championing company culture that builds career growth
“We have focused on championing a culture that creates opportunities for our people to acquire new skills that can help advance their careers,” Cash says. “The fact that BTY works on some of the biggest and most complex projects in Canada is a definite draw. We also provide training and education, as well as ongoing mentorship to attract and retain top talent. We have a very entrepreneurial culture, and having fun is a big part of it. Team camaraderie is very strong here. You’re expected to speak up, and can expect to be listened to.”
That support for acquiring new skills and mentoring professional development has enabled BTY to expand its service line, develop expertise in new sectors and markets and compete for more complex, high-profile projects across the globe. In the longer term, the industry as a whole needs to do more to raise awareness of what we do and support the expansion of opportunities for professional training throughout the educational system.
“It’s an ongoing effort, but it is the only sustainable solution to remedying the shortfall of talent,” says Cash. “The construction industry has become accustomed to the value that we add as a profession. Now we have to create greater awareness in the education system about the value PQSs and CECs add to society—to show how our services help ensure the delivery of a return on investment in the construction industry, which is one of the key sectors of the national economy.”
#2: Taming technology’s impact
Technology’s track record for transforming (and sometimes eliminating) occupations is well established, as any former switchboard operator can attest. New technology is also challenging white-collar professions in finance, marketing, law and even medicine to redefine how people add value.2
The construction industry, PQSs and CECs are not immune to the impact of new technology, says Michael Gabert. Building Information Modelling (BIM) software is one example of how technology is rapidly changing design, engineering, and construction. The 3D modeling system enables architects, engineers and builders to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.
“The benefits in increased efficiency are easy to see,” says Gabert. “Less obvious are the drawbacks. The information that goes into the models is only as useful as the understanding of the people who enter it. At BTY, we advocate embracing technology wisely, using BIM solutions in ways that make room for human interpretation of data. The kind of understanding that only a PQS or a CEC can bring to the process is critical for completing a final review that factors in the big picture—and can evaluate variances when details do not add up. That clarity is part of the value we add in protecting our clients’ interests.”
Further challenges related to the use of BIM are finding and testing database and estimating software that can integrate with BIM, and training staff to manage the integration and implementation. It is no small switch to make when the PQS industry has been doing 2D takeoff for the last 60 years with long-established software programs. That challenge points to another area where the wise application of technology enables PQSs to add value: database creation and management. Capturing data is one thing; being able to assess, interpret, arrange, update and display it in a timely user-friendly way enables BTY to advise clients on cost and risk on truly like-to-like scenarios. That is what makes the technology so beneficial.
“Clients dazzled by any new technology don’t always appreciate this,” says Gabert. “In the end, we add value by drawing out clarity from complexity and enabling clients to understand the implications of the numbers so they can make better decisions. New technology can speed the process, but the ultimate decision remains human.”
#3: Demand for greater speed to market
The third issue is the increasing pressure to get building projects to market as quickly as possible, says Connor Falls. The expectations of clients for faster delivery time seem to rise in lockstep with advances in technology, not only in construction but also in every business sector.
Speed has become an unqualified good. People expect faster communications, faster transportation, and faster service all around. Think of how quickly people expect a response to a text message, or how impatient they can be in the line-up to clear security at the airport. “The push to shorten timelines in construction, ironically, can easily cause increases in delay and cost overruns,” says Falls.
It takes time to complete the design process and conduct the associated cost analyses properly. But the industry is moving in the opposite direction. Where once the design process took 12 months, now there is pressure to shorten it to six months. “There is always someone who will accept the lesser timeframe in order to win the work,” says Falls. “But ultimately it serves neither the client’s interests nor that of the PQS firm. The haste undermines the ability to deliver value for money.”
There is no quick fix to what seems to be an industry-wide phenomenon. BTY’s response to the challenge is two-fold. The first is to improve our clients’ understanding of the risk that rushing delivery introduces. “This is really about going back to basics,” says Falls. “We try to demonstrate that taking the time to ‘do it right this time’ is in the client’s interest. It enables greater accuracy and cost certainty, and mitigates the risk that arises with unwarranted speed.”
BTY has always places a high value on responding as quickly as possible to meet client needs – and equally on maintaining top quality of our due diligence. “We have always seen ourselves as stewards of our clients’ success,” says Falls. “Knowing how to work fast and thoroughly stands us, and our clients, in good stead.”
The second part is to ensure that we all uphold professional standards as one. “This admittedly is no easy task,” says Falls. “But when we as a profession fail to live up to our responsibilities as professionals, we fail the client and the profession. There is too much at stake to sacrifice standards just to save time.”
This article was originally published in the Construction Economist, Spring 2017 issue,:http://bit.ly/2pYvwT7