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The foundation of London, Ont.’s construction industry for over 120 years

By Aaron Broverman

 

In many ways, the London & District Construction Association (LDCA) is the glue holding London, Ont., and the surrounding district’s industrial, commercial, and institutional construction industry together, and they’ve been doing it for over 120 years.

Founded in 1898 as The London Builders’ Exchange, and financially supported entirely by its membership within London and the surrounding counties, the LDCA’s overall mission has stayed consistent over all those years: “to provide leadership to all members through advocacy, education, innovation and support.” How this has manifested has changed, particularly as LDCA members face the challenges of today’s construction industry. Helping members stay connected is a key component of their mission and that has been put to the test during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Covid-19 challenges

From the beginning of the initial Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020, LDCA began updating its members daily on new health and safety standards that had to be implemented and precautions that had to be taken to keep construction jobsites operational and workers safe.

“For the first six months, we were providing an update related to Covid-19 either from the Council of Ontario Construction Associations or the Canadian Construction Association every day,” said John Harris, president of the LDCA’s board of directors. Updates were also provided from the Ministry of Labour, Training, Skills and Development (MLTSD) and the Ministry of Health, along with additional provincial and regional agencies.

Updates included social distancing standards, standards around sanitation, what constitutes effective PPE and, more recently – as ‘non-essential construction’ was banned across Ontario during the fourth lockdown – guidance on what was considered non-essential construction. LDCA spent time wading through the barrage of information to extract the pertinent information for members. Throughout all these challenges, LDCA continues to provide service and support for its members.

We’re not updating our members as much anymore, but has Covid-19 affected our industry? Yes. I’d say production is down a little bit and there are more Covid protocols going into the jobsite, but construction has been pretty clean locally as far as the virus is concerned. I only know of one job in London that had any Covid cases,” said Harris.

Mike Carter, executive director of LDCA, attributes the success of low Covid-19 numbers in London’s construction industry to the productive relationship between the construction industry and provincial government ministries such as Ontario’s MLTSD. Both worked together to develop an entirely new set of health and safety protocols in a month. LDCA works to develop and maintain relationships with local, provincial and national bodies with oversight of the industry as part of its commitment to advocacy.

Having pivoted to meet the ever-evolving changes brought on by Covid-19, LDCA is now looking forward to Ontario’s reopening and finding ways to address the impact of that return on the construction industry.

“These protective health and safety standards were critical, but the impacts of the pandemic were and are broad. For instance, supply chains have been fundamentally disrupted and commodity prices are rapidly escalating, to the point that planned projects are not going forward as originally planned,” said Carter who still leaves room for optimism going forward. “Many aspects of construction have been negatively impacted, but with perseverance and adaptability, we are surviving reasonably well. We look forward to a post-Covid-19 world, whenever that occurs.”

One of the many reasons Carter looks forward is because a post-Covid-19 world means LDCA can
re-establish in-person events. Connection to the local industry is one of the main reasons those in London’s construction industry join LDCA. From golf tournaments to chili cook-offs and BBQs, networking events remain integral to LDCA’s membership.

“We used to have less frequent, in-person get-togethers
and now we have far more frequent, less personal get-togethers via Zoom,” said Carter. “There can be a lot more rapid information processing by the industry, but the industry really loves in-person relationship building. We are one of the few associations that is still going ahead with three golf tournaments this year because our members really desire it.”

The LDCA is hoping to host in-person events later this summer and will follow all Covid-19 protocols regarding gatherings.

 

Workforce recruitment

Covid-19 also meant LDCA’s efforts to combat the industry’s workforce renewal issue have been put on indefinite hold.

“There are both supply and demand issues. Right now, there’s a heightened level of construction demand that will last for what I will say is the next seven years, and when you look at the average age of a construction worker at 47, you start to run into a huge raft of people retiring,” said Carter. “Our challenge is it’s way less likely that a trade will get passed down from father to son and from mother to daughter and outside of that. We’re not as sophisticated in our recruitment as other industries, so we’re having to learn all new methods of reaching our target audience.”

To organize the industry behind the recruitment
process, two years ago, LDCA conceived of the Skilled Trades Education Centre (STEC). It’s a teaching program that involves in-person mentorship and hands-on experiential opportunities for those wanting to learn a trade. Home builders formally partnered with the industrial-
commercial and civil part of construction to advance this single initiative which impacts the entire industry. With buy-in from the Thames Valley District and the London District Catholic school boards, along with Fanshawe College, LDCA is taking positive, proactive steps to recruit the next generation of skilled trades workers.

“Covid-19 interrupted our start very specifically because if your approach to promotion is hands-on experience, it’s impossible to do that during Covid-19,” said Carter.

Undeterred, LDCA put STEC on hold and went digital – developing an interactive Q&A webinar called, ‘So You Want to Be a Skilled Trades Person?’ to be delivered to local employment agencies and high schools within LDCA’s coverage area. It features both a home builder and an industrial-commercial tradesperson with their respective apprentices on a jobsite answering questions and demonstrating techniques. The viewer can interact by asking questions.

Science centre of construction

In addition, LDCA will become a group sponsor for apprentices, helping to take some of the administrative burden away from smaller firms. The association also plans to launch an innovative training program that isn’t trade specific. Instead, the program introduces potential recruits to several trades, and they self-select their specialty as they make their way through the program. LDCA’s long-term aspiration to draw more people to the construction industry has been billed as, “The Ontario Science Centre for construction,” and it would be built in the heart of London.

“We want to have a Science Centre of Construction that you can go in with all the different divisions on construction: concrete, foundations, painting, electrical, mechanical, flooring, etc. Our goal is if you went into this building, you’d be able to have a hands-on experience to play with electrical and mechanical components and go, ‘Hey, that’s cool, maybe I should get into that!’ We hope retired construction professionals would volunteer their time as part of it to show young people why the construction industry is so great,” said Harris.

While that remains a longer-term goal, the LDCA remains constant, providing all the services, training, plans room access and events that have built its reputation. For over a century, LDCA has worked to unite the local construction industry, including those in the foundations sector.

“Our industry is about good foundations and strong working relationships; with your general contractors, your concrete suppliers, steel suppliers and all of those folks who keep our industry strong. The LDCA is about finding solutions for every part of the industry,”
said Carter. 

Photos courtesy of LDCA Archives

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.