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Conversations with industry leaders on the Future of Work

Innovation Spotlight seeks to highlight leaders who are changing, challenging, and disrupting the Canadian landscape within technology and design. This has been an incredibly poignant year; we’ve seen the construction and building industry shaken up on a global scale. Though extraordinary circumstances breed extraordinary responses, and it is through difficult times where the most unique solutions arise; This past year has certainly encouraged us to reflect, reevaluate, and redefine new methodologies, technologies, processes, and more.

In this issue, we spoke with some of the most impactful and innovative influencers on the topic of, “The Future of Work”. Discussing what it means, its effects, and providing invaluable insight on how to best prepare an adaptable, resilient workforce, able to tackle unprecedented times.

With an urgency to adapt to change and adopt new technologies, what does it mean to you to plan for “The Future of Work”?

Mike DeOrsey, Senior Associate, and Sarah Dreger, Senior Principal &Discipline Leader, both, Buildings Digital Practice, Stantec: Planning successfully for “The Future of Work” means being adaptive in practice, divergent in thought, agile enough to implement or pivot when necessary, and most importantly, knowing what skillsets or who you need on board to thrive in a constantly changing world.

We believe the secret to success is the right combination of the above and can be the difference between thriving and surviving in this or any other industry.

We not only continually seek the brightest minds with a diverse array of skillsets but consistently maintain a pulse on new or tangential industry advancement as the vast majority of disruption to our industry has been as a result of process adaptation or technological development in another, such as  Virtual Reality from gaming or  3D printing from manufacturing

David Lod, Chief Executive Officer, VEERUM: COVID-19 has in many ways proved to us that the “Future of Work” is shifting. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations had to rapidly change how they operated not only to survive, but also to succeed in a time of crisis. With this disruptive period of workplace changes comes both these short-term adjustments and catalyzes long-term transformations in the workplace. At VEERUM, planning for the “Future of Work” means preparing our talent for the future. As leaders in our organizations, it is our responsibility to invest in and empower our employees with the tools and trust they need for optimal success. This means fostering a culture of continuous learning, promoting innovation and creativity, and expanding our horizons of digital work to mitigate any future skill gap. We believe in a culture of continuous improvement because encouraging employees to expand their learning horizon and providing them with the opportunities to do so is a more effective strategy of preparedness in a rapidly changing, unpredictable workplace. The “Future of Work” will be just as much about people as technology, so it is essential to keep our people up to speed.

Gerard McCabe, Managing Director, Canada, Turner & Townsend: As a professional services company we have always been valued on our face to face client communication and in person collaboration. That said as we continue to grow globally, we have recognized the importance of using technology to collaborate across the regions. It is essential that we remain efficient and effective in how we communicate and share information with each other. Turner & Townsend, like most companies across the globe, has been shaken by the recent pandemic. More employees are now working remotely, construction sites and client offices are limiting the number of people allowed in the work place, and commuting has become more of a challenge.

As the health, safety and wellbeing of employees are the main priorities for the business, Turner & Townsend has adopted new collaborative platforms, providing employees with efficient methods of staying connected.

Sam Revel, Senior Pre-Fabrication Manager, Pitt Meadows Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Ltd.: At PMP we see the “Future of Work” being the greater automation of standardized construction processes. By leveraging standard work across projects, adaption and adoption of new technologies enables the efficiencies the industry needs to stay relevant as technology and artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent to what we do everyday. Without this the industry will fall behind what is possible when technology is applied to construction.

Jas Saraw, Vice-President, Canada, Procore:  2020 has accelerated a number of changes that were already underway in the industry, including trying to find a way to deal with skilled labour shortages now and into the future, becoming safer as an industry and leveraging technology to increase transparency. Technology ultimately helps to unlock productivity gains that allow workers to increase effectiveness by working remotely more often, generating the desired safety results by reducing the commotion on a jobsite and more. While 2020 has been a strange year in many regards, it goes without saying that the change that it has forced is welcome and needed for an industry that needs to meet future demands for construction.

Steve Tremblay, Director of the Deployment of Integrated BIM-PCI Practices, Société Québécoise des Infrastructures: The SQI, as a major public owner, has placed the human at the heart of its activities – especially in the digital transformation of the construction industry. On the other hand, the 2020 pandemic crisis could be seen as a catalyzer of change, where working remotely and adopting new technology becomes our new reality. In this context, planning for “The Future of Work” here at SQI means ensuring the balance between the adoption of new technologies, the developing of new talent and skills, and working remotely in collaboration in order to deliver more optimized public infrastructure projects, that remain  high-performing over their whole lifecycle. As a plan for “The Future of Work”, the SQI will evolve with its corporate, collaborative, structured, gradual and innovate approach to implement the integrated practices by looking for:

  • Improving the workspace for co-creation by preparing the favorable environment that enhances collaboration (physical, contractual and technological environments) to asset projects teams in their development in a secure way.
  • Integrating collaboration tools to enhance productivity, these tools will be applied to the whole lifecycle of a project to create, analyze, document, communicate and reuse the information.
  • Creating a culture of performance early in projects by focusing on outcomes and end-users experience, by working together with our partners and the stakeholders to identify the needs early in the project and to set up a suitable process of project development that ensures performance.

It also means, as a public owner, that we have to rethink space management and we have to be able to give clear advices to our clients regarding there needs for spaces in this new context.

What innovations and technologies do you envision becoming integral to that plan?

Mike DeOrsey, Senior Associate, and Sarah Dreger, Senior Principal & Discipline Leader, both, Buildings Digital Practice, Stantec: Data is the new currency and automation technology (robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence) are not only integral to our “Future of Work” plan but will continue to be major industry disruptors.

This technology will not only change how we work but our roles or functions in this industry as well as “optioneering” and “production” of designs, models, drawings and other deliverables will make use of ML or AI to produce the same quality of design alternatives but faster and in a more intuitive and interactive manner.

Our designers will partner with the computer in a way that allows for each to use those aspects of their abilities to create spaces and places that could not be imagined previously, optimized to the needs of our clients and an evolving natural environment.

David Lod, Chief Executive Officer, VEERUM: New technologies are enabling organizations to take advantage of new strategies more efficiently than in the past. At VEERUM, we are thrilled to have played a role in helping many industrial companies safeguard the “Future of Work” through digital technology. We help companies conduct remote maintenance planning, construction monitoring, and quality verification on a portfolio-wide scale. The VEERUM platform provides organizations with the tools they were exploring before, but now in 2020, digital tools are absolutely necessary to continue business. The tailwinds of COVID-19 and the fact that people need to be more productive and unlock the capital potential of every dollar that comes into an organization lines up right on VEERUM’s platform and ultimate mission. As the convergence between new technology trends and platforms like VEERUM continue to align, it will result in better and faster digital tools, sparking a new wave of innovation. We’ve seen the commodification of data capture, IoT devices on industrial sites and an increase in workers using digital tools on site. Integration of technology will be key to achieving high productivity, better collaboration and connectedness in the “Future of Work.”

Gerard McCabe, Managing Director, Canada, Turner & Townsend: Turner & Townsend has made a recent investment in Microsoft Office 365, which is currently being rolled out across the business. Having used Skype for Business and Sharepoints over the years, the logical investment was to shift to a more integrated platform which would allow employees to utilize the connected MS solutions.

To improve our support for clients, we are investing in reality capture solutions. Utilizing 360 degree cameras and cloud based viewing platforms such as Holo Builder, we can improve site progress documentation, capturing data over the life of the project. As these are cloud based solutions, we can collaborate with anyone, anywhere, allowing stakeholders to stay updated, whilst removing the barriers of having to be on site.

Our digital specialists also offer services for BIM and Information Management. We have a team of experienced consultants who have worked across the globe managing BIM projects for clients, providing advisory services for digital solutions, and putting strategies in place for improving the management of project information using a common data environment. These services are becoming more important as construction projects become more complex. The adoption of cloud based IM platforms have allowed us to collaborate with partners from around the world more effectively on projects, and with the adoption of BIM on projects, we can ensure schedule, cost and quality for the client is met.

Data analytics will also play an important role within the business. As we are becoming more data dependent, it is becoming ever more important to be able to consume, analyze and report on the information we receive, in a clear and concise format.

Jas Saraw, Vice-President, Canada, Procore: Collaboration is critical to the success of any given project. Bringing together a complex set of stakeholders with varying areas of expertise and scope can sometimes lead to conflict. If communications and expectations are not carefully managed through oversight and systems it can lead to less than favourable outcomes for the project and everyone throughout the value chain.

Collaboration should not only extend to all stakeholders on a project, it should also encompass all workflows and use cases. Only then can all stakeholders realize the benefits of a unified data model and capture learnings that will inform how these teams act and react in the future.

The construction technology space is booming and the number of new entrants is mind boggling. While many can solve for discrete processes, a truly collaborative platform that ties together multiple integrated processes is critical. A platform by definition is a solution that allows other technologies to build on top of it and it is through that level of extensibility and integration, that the industry can capture insights when previously disconnected and discrete solutions can now plug into a platform application that is the heartbeat of an organization.

Last but not least, we have a massive opportunity to not only leverage technology but to harness the unified data model inherent in the platform to generate insights for the business. By then tying in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the next level of insights is gained, where now data is assessed in real time, and the systems themselves look for and detect patterns in the data that will allow construction companies to reach preemptively, mitigate risk in real time ,and solve issues before they happen.

Sam Revel, Senior Pre-Fabrication Manager, Pitt Meadows Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Ltd.: We’re passionate about off-site fabrication and through standardization we can leverage smart machinery and automation of processes in our shop to increase productivity and quality whilst opening up a wider labour pool during a skilled worker shortage and reducing the manual labour needed compared to typical construction. These standards of work translate to our projects allowing robotic layout of the mechanical services, the use of 3D modelling to aid installation and drastically reduced site labour hours to complete the same amount of work.

Steve Tremblay, Director of the Deployment of Integrated BIM-PCI Practices, Société Québécoise des Infrastructures: Considering the evolving context with the Initiative Quebecoise de la construction (IQc) 4.0, and the economy recovery plan, the SQI is setting forth standards for the industry with evolving requirements in contract documents and leveling them up with visionaries and pragmatist teams alike.

In order to focus on optimized outcomes and end-user experience, many innovations and technologies can be adopted, the context of each project will dictate which innovation or technology is more suitable to be considered. Our role is to recommend our clients and guide the project teams in implementing the evolving integrated practices such as BIM or Integrated Project Delivery, or IDP.

We are heading towards collaborative environments enabled by technologies and intelligent infrastructures with the deployment of BIM’s extensions geared towards teams and operations, such as Digital Twins and analytics for project management.

Do you think we can build a more adaptable, resilient, and effective workforce and industry that is prepared to handle interruptions that affect us on a global scale?

Mike DeOrsey,  Senior Associate, and Sarah Dreger, Senior Principal &Discipline Leader, both, Buildings Digital Practice, Stantec: Organize, plan, diversify and adapt.

The biggest challenges for our industry are siloed, fragmented, and unstructured data and the adaptation of roles or functions we have within the AECOO industry.

We know our ability to leverage data is a competitive advantage so now is the time to dig in, understand what you have, build a solid yet flexible data architecture plan, and implement.

We also have seen wider adoption and interest in automation technology; visual programming, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. This means that we need to either expand our curriculum and skillsets of architects, engineers, and interior designers to include logic, programming, and data analytics or start looking for talent in other industries. The other dimension that will be critical is to establish a truly diverse workforce and by this we mean diverse in all aspects.

We already know that diverse backgrounds bring different perspectives and enhance our design solutions, but diversity geographically can also help keep business operations moving forward even as waves of disruption roll across the globe.

Technology will keep us connected regardless of where we are, but success requires each company have a mechanism in place that connects a wide network of individuals and talent aligned to common goals.

David Lod, Chief Executive Officer, VEERUM: To handle interruptions that affect us on a global scale and adapt to a “new normal”, we must embrace innovation, flexibility, and creativity. It is a time to empower diverse voices and take on new perspectives to find solutions. Therefore, I see resiliency and adaptability as a learned and practiced skill in our organization rather than a personality trait. At VEERUM, we practice resiliency and adaptability by promoting a flat organizational structure rather than a hierarchy. We have developed an adaptive network that functions as the basis for communicating, collaborating and working together. With this structure, innovation and great ideas diffuse naturally throughout the network, rather than a solely top-down approach to finding solutions during a time of crisis.

Gerard McCabe, Managing Director, Canada, Turner & Townsend: A lot of the challenges we are seeing globally is around how information is being created and managed. Although we are becoming more connected and utilizing digital practices and technology more, we are still seeing large numbers of projects which are relying on traditional methods of document and Information Management, or IM, face to face meetings, and working in a more siloed environment. The more we adopt cloud based solutions, BIM and IM, reality capture etc. the quicker we can shift and adapt to interruptions and challenges.

Education is a priority. So much of our workforce is resistant to adopting technologies because they do not understand it. Recognizing that technology is becoming a fundamental part of our life personally and professionally, we can make huge leaps putting the right technology to work for us. There is still a large barrier to adopting digital practices in the industry due to lack of education and awareness. The more educated we can become, the quicker we can integrate digital solutions in to our constructions practices. This will also be the catalyst for a cultural shift in the industry.

Sam Revel, Senior Pre-Fabrication Manager, Pitt Meadows Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Ltd.: For PMP this all comes back to our earlier answer. By removing labour hours from the site and completing them in a controlled environment, leveraging smart machinery and automation of processes it becomes possible to control the workforce, maintain stringent safety protocols and allow planning to levels not seen on a typical construction site. These benefits are compounded on-site by reducing trade stacking, reducing the total number of workers on-site, and reducing the general overheads required to keep a construction site running day-to-day.

Jas Saraw, Vice-President, Canada, Procore: Building a more resilient workforce comes with a few varying approaches and levels of focus. For one, governments need to understand the power that the industry has to shape our communities and the level of contribution it makes to GDP. This should help inform trades and labour workforce training programsthat are well funded and focused on attracting new entrants to the workforce, demonstrating construction as a STEM field, and bringing diverse voices and perspectives to the industry. Resilience can also be achieved with greater collaboration that reduces jobsite risk, reduces costs related to rework and generally creates the level of efficiency that allows capital to be deployed more effectively, which in turn allows us to succeed in the face of global crises. Technology also plays a large part in reducing the impact of interruptions by allowing workers and executives alike to pivot quickly in the face of uncertainty, to ensure that effectiveness is not constrained by geography, disparate systems and lack of data which hamper decision making ability. Technology also helps unlock the value of those with decades of tribal knowledge, by removing the artificial barriers that would otherwise see them exit the industry. As such, these valued members of the community and society can continue to have a large impact on industry by training construction professionals among other things.

Steve Tremblay, Director of the Deployment of Integrated BIM-PCI Practices, Société Québécoise des Infrastructures: The answer probably resides in the balance of knowledge, know-how and interpersonal skills for the current workforce as well as the forthcoming one with disruptive new roles related to the Construction 4.0 era.

As a public owner, we have to act as a leader and as a partner in this evolution of the industry. We need to emphasize the importance of roles and responsibilities’ definition akin to the existing ones in the industry and their evolvement.Building a more adaptable, resilient, and effective workforce is a matter of organizational culture change that can be achieved by:

  • Setting up a strategy to assess the evolution of roles, skills and talent; and
  • Working with the industry to improve maturity and setting up a sustainable collaboration.

Our BIM-IDP roadmap deployment and our growing dedicated team to integrated practices to constantly advise and integrate change management along with a proactive IT team, also proactive to maintain the current workforce aware and efficient with new technologies.

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