Home Featured Construction Rebuilding: Construction’s Big Comeback

Rebuilding: Construction’s Big Comeback

Construction on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Photo care of Trans Mountain.

According to majorprojects.alberta.ca, the province has about 615 active projects underway, totaling $191.5 billion. Construction projects in Edmonton account for $186.5 million of that total. From infrastructure to residential, commercial to industrial, Alberta continues to build – and we are building more than structures.

“The skilled construction trades provide many Albertans with rewarding, mortgage-paying careers, whose income supports local businesses, restaurants, shops and more. This means a healthier local economy for all of us,” says Tyler Bedford, director of communications and relations at Building Trades Alberta.

This organization coordinates and promotes the interests of 18 Alberta local skilled trades unions, whose more than 60,000 members work in the residential, commercial and industrial construction, maintenance, and fabrication industries.

“The Building Trades of Alberta is proud to partner with many organizations that expose and promote careers in the skilled trades to students, youth and underrepresented groups like women and Indigenous Albertans.” Bedford points out. “Our own Building Trades of Alberta Training Society (BTATS) was established to provide training, answer questions and coach apprentices through the apprenticeship system to help prepare folks for a skilled-trades career. These careers are rewarding, challenging and allow people to contribute to the economy and our society all while making a good living.”

Even though construction has experienced economic setbacks, Bedford notes that Albertan’s should still feel optimism.

“The economy has made things challenging for many industries in Alberta,” he admits, “but The Building Trades of Alberta pushes hard for mega projects and other large-scale jobs in our province so that our more than 60,000 members, and other Albertans, can find and keep work. There is good evidence that work is coming back and in fact, we’ll need many more skilled trades workers to not only keep up with the labour demand, but to fill the looming labour gap that will result in a heavy increase in skilled-trades workers reaching retirement age over the next decade.

“There is always a need for construction, fabrication, maintenance, shutdown and turnaround work in the province too, so there are a number of reasons Albertans should feel optimistic about Alberta’s construction industry and the future of trades here in our province.”

In Edmonton that turnaround is already underway, thanks in part to the long-awaited Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Construction began in Greater Edmonton in December 2019 and was the first area to have pipe in the ground.

Lizette Parsons Bell, Director, Stakeholder Engagement & Communications for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, explains.

“Pipeline construction in the Greater Edmonton area begins at Trans Mountain’s Edmonton Terminal in Sherwood Park and extends to Highway 60 in Acheson. This section of construction will be about a $300 million project and SA Energy Group is the general contractor responsible for this spread.

“The work will include approximately 50 kilometers of pipeline and 13 trenchless crossings that will use horizontal directional drilling methods. Trenchless methods are a key tool in the construction of major pipeline projects in urban and environmentally sensitive areas. They greatly mitigate impact to normal daily activities and traffic circulation patterns and minimize or eliminate ground disturbance.”

Bell continues, “We have also begun construction at our Edmonton Terminal, which includes the addition of four new storage tanks, four new pumps, connecting infrastructure and a new substation. This work will be undertaken by our engineering, procurement and contractor, Cord.”

The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is expected to create around 15,000 construction jobs. As of September 30, 2019, the Project and associated contractors hired more than 2,200 people, including Indigenous, local and regional workers.

Getting the Project launched faced obstacles, but Trans Mountain is determined to continue addressing concerns.

“Open, extensive and thorough engagement along the pipeline and marine corridors has been an important part of the expansion. The input and feedback we have received has helped shape our plans and create a safer, stronger Project,” says Bell. “For more than seven years, our teams have been having wide-ranging discussions with Indigenous groups, communities, landowners, stakeholders and others who have taken an interest in the Project. We’ve held information sessions, business readiness workshops, town halls, coffee chats and other face-to-face conversations. The Project has evolved substantially since 2012, so we’ve made it a priority to share information in a wide variety of ways. No matter how people want to receive information, we find a way to make sure they get it. We welcome the feedback and answer every Project-related question.”

While Edmonton moves forward with its phase of the Pipeline, another company is making the news for continuing to show how technology is a key part of the province’s future in construction.

Late last year Mark Bryant, chief information officer, PCL Construction, was named the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) Canadian CIO of the Year.

“The win goes to my team – as it would not be possible without them,” Bryant explained to Business in Edmonton magazine. “It is both critically important and essential for construction organizations to embrace digital change today to drive productivity and efficiency gains in an industry that has historically been laggard in digitization.  We now operate in a global economy, and often there are new entrants seeking to disrupt or displace, so all companies need to find ways in which technology can deliver sustainable and lasting change to enhance their business.  Failure to adapt to change and innovate will put us behind.  We have a real opportunity to drive innovation from Alberta and extend it beyond our borders to the benefit of all Albertans.”

He continues, “As one of the oldest industries in the world, techniques and practices used 100 years ago are still practiced today.  By marrying sound business practices, change and technology together, we can fuse a new path forward that modernizes our industry. There is a lot of risk in our business and managing those technologies, so smart changes are key.  A slow, steady and methodical means in enhancing our business with technology is the recipe to success and has served us well in the last few years as we continue to evolve to a future where technology use is inevitable to remain competitive.”

Walking the talk, PCL is encouraging the next generation of builders to engage in industry-changing technology.

“PCL has a robust student program of which we are proud of in all of our office locations across the both the US and Canada, and we find it extremely valuable.  Currently in our Business Technology department we have over 20 active students from many post-secondary institutions that enable us to deliver change, provide insights and keep us abreast of the latest ideas and thinking coming out of the school system. We also employ students in our buildings, civil and industrial lines of business, and our students are often a source of fresh thinking and ideas.  We find our student program critically essential in contributing positively to the organization,” says Bryant.

“Driving innovative change in the heart of Alberta and extending it across the geographies we work in is an exceptional feeling and source of great satisfaction.  Where we can, we support using local Alberta technology companies and have partnered with a few like mcThings™ and AltaML Inc. We can, and are, inflecting positive change not only in Alberta, but across the globe, and that is something we can all be proud of.”

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the headlines about Alberta’s economic woes, but don’t overlook the good news as well. The construction industry is expected to grow and there is a focus on training for local, skilled labour. The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is underway. Technology is advancing the industry. In short, things are looking, and building, up.