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Contractor to contractor panel examines big changes in construction

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by Angela Gismondi

Risk transfer, technology and millennials in the workplace were just some of the topics addressed by a contractor to contractor panel at the Navacord Construction Conference held recently in Toronto.
A panel discussion held at the Navacord Construction Conference in Toronto recently offered inside perspectives on how contractors are dealing with change in the industry.
A panel discussion held at the Navacord Construction Conference in Toronto recently offered inside perspectives on how contractors are dealing with change in the industry. - Photo: ANGELA GISMONDI

The first question posed to the contractors by moderator Gregory Petrela, president of Petrela Winter and Associates Insurance Brokers, who co-hosted the conference with Jones Deslauriers Insurance Management, was what keeps you up at night?

"The way risk is transferred," responded Tim Smith, a senior advisor and former executive vice-president at EllisDon. "A lot of trades don't fully understand what the risk transfer is, the impact of the risk they are taking on...It's fine if you can manage it, but you can't always manage it."

Allan Youmans, president of Matheson Constructors, said prompt payment for general and trade contractors keeps him up at night.

"Everybody wants to be paid quickly, the problem is the mechanics of the way we do it seem to always get in the way of getting paid fast," explained Youmans.

Frank Perricone, president of Percon Construction and former chair of the Ontario General Contractors Association, said he is concerned about the safety of workers and the public.

He shared a story about one of his employees who was recently hurt on the jobsite.

"We had everything in place as far as making sure the workplace was safe but it happened," said Perricone. "Every night when I go home I make sure I get hold of all my superintendents and make sure that everyone got home."

He also talked about how decision-makers are changing in companies.

"They are going through a change in who is calling the shots," said Perricone. "Some people are knowledgeable and experienced in it, some are not. It causes frustration, arguments, claims and that leads down the road of usually spending money."

Panellists were in agreement that the biggest change they have seen in the last 10 years is technology.

"BIM (building information modeling) and virtual design has become huge," explained Youmans. "A year ago we did none of it, today we have two people completely dedicated to it...BIM is the thing that is substantially changing our business. It is the thing that is allowing us to move forward faster and more accurately."

Perricone noted young people coming into the industry use texting and emailing as primary forms of communication.

"One of the changes we're realizing in our organization, and I think a lot of small- to medium-sized businesses are as well, is that we're educating people on how to communicate again," said Perricone. "I keep telling my people, pick up the phone and talk to people. Stop the tennis match, going back and forth."

A lot of the industry isn't up to speed with technology yet, the panellists acknowledged.

"We still have a plans room in our office, hardly used, but once in a while we'll have a subtrade that doesn't have access to a high speed modem or the ability to download drawings, who still wants drawings on paper. It's the smaller guys," said Perricone. "We still want to do business with them. They're great contractors, they're just not up to speed with that change."

Smith also talked about technology on the jobsite and how computers, iPads, drones and vest and helmet cameras are now commonplace.

The new workforce was also a topic of interest. While millennials have a different approach to work, they also have a lot to offer, said Perricone.

"We have to try and adapt and understand the new workforce coming in," he said. "They are great at innovation."

Youmans said there are different "rules of engagement" with millennials and he doesn't think anyone has it figured out just yet.

"Millennials think differently," said Youmans. "I will admit that if anyone ever told we would have yoga at the office I would have said 'you're crazy,' "

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