The implications for Saskatchewan’s construction industry: Embracing diversity, technology and change

By Pat Rediger

In a rapidly evolving construction landscape, where optimism about the industry’s future co-exists with challenges that demand innovative solutions, the release of the How We Build Now: Technology and Industry Trends Shaping Canadian Construction in 2023 report by Procore Technologies, Inc. has significant implications for Saskatchewan’s construction sector.

As the province grapples with its unique set of circumstances, ranging from labour shortages to technology adoption, this comprehensive report sheds light on the road ahead, emphasizing the need for diversity and inclusion programs and the integration of cutting-edge technologies to navigate the industry’s transformation.

“Although Saskatchewan may be less of a hotbed compared to the total construction that is going on across the country, we see that the province is essentially experiencing the same issues as elsewhere,” said Brandon Lee, senior manager of customer success at Procore.

The report, a result of extensive surveys and analyses, underscores the industry’s overall positive sentiment. Out of the over 500 respondents, consisting of owner/developers, general contractors and subcontractors, nine out of 10 expressed confidence in the industry’s conditions for the coming year.

This optimism can be attributed to several factors, including the initiation of large-scale projects such as the Ontario Line subway and clean energy ventures in British Columbia. The growing immigrant population is also driving demand for housing and infrastructure. These factors, coupled with an existing labour shortage, are adding to the industry’s backlog of projects.

Lee says that despite industry optimism, the data indicates there is a clear call for embracing technology to address crucial challenges. The survey shows 27 per cent of the total time spent on a project is used for rework or rectifying issues.

Other findings revealed that almost half of all projects go over budget and over schedule, and over 30 per cent of respondents identified needing new technology to improve operational efficiency and cost controls amid economic volatility. In fact, paper remains a common medium for Canadian construction decision-makers. About a quarter of respondents still use paper-based records or non-digital processes as part of their workflows.

The construction sector has historically faced hurdles in integrating technology tailored to its needs, but the advent of technologies like smartphones and the internet has paved the way for software developers to create solutions that streamline on-field operations.

Data access

The report highlighted that 41 per cent of respondents believe real-time and historical data accessibility would enable them to make better decisions. They also believe they could save up to 12 per cent of their total spending on projects if they captured, integrated and standardized data more efficiently. Notably, a significant 17 per cent of project costs are spent on data and information searches, showing a pressing need for more efficient data management systems.

Lee says that the transition to new technologies isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavour. The challenge lies in successfully implementing these changes across a company, particularly in organizations with diverse roles and responsibilities. To mitigate these challenges, the report advocates for proactive problem-solving approaches, emphasizing the importance of leadership at all levels to effectively navigate obstacles that may occur.

“Process change management takes time,” he said. “You also have to hold the project teams accountable to leverage the system so that the people who need to make decisions at any point in the company have that understanding of what they need to double down on, or where they are running into issues in a project. This is a more proactive approach to problem solving.”

One of the most critical issues facing the construction industry nationwide, including Saskatchewan, is the labour shortage. The report reveals that nearly 29 per cent of respondents faced challenges accepting new projects over the past three to six months due to the scarcity of skilled labour. With the impending retirement of many experienced workers, the industry faces an urgency to attract younger talent who are already tech-savvy. Lee says that these individuals will soon be at the helm of these companies, making it crucial to create an environment that appeals to their career goals.

Diversity, inclusion and sustainability

The report noted that labour shortages can be addressed through diversity and inclusion initiatives to attract women, minorities and historically marginalized groups. The report indicated that 38 per cent of decision-makers recognize the need for such improvements in construction workplaces.

One of the most underrepresented groups in the construction workforce is women, particularly in executive roles.

“If there is an underrepresentation of [women], not only at the field or the office levels, but more importantly, in the management chain, you’re going to struggle to find the right talent, and in a time of labour shortage, to be able to deliver those projects,” said Lee.

The industry is also keen to adopt more environmentally conscious and sustainable building practices. Approximately half of the respondents have started to focus on strategies like prefabrication and improved material selection to reduce the carbon footprint of their projects. Four in 10 are either currently tracking or plan to start tracking (within the next 12 months) carbon emissions on their construction projects.

As the construction industry grapples with these multifaceted challenges, the report offers a blueprint for progress. The five recommended steps include effective preconstruction practices to enhance productivity, diverse hiring strategies to alleviate labour shortages, streamlined data management for enhanced insights, proactive data management to improve payment processes and the use of construction platforms for a competitive edge.

Lee says that undertaking these steps won’t be easy and it will require company-wide acceptance to move forward.

“I think it’s really important to have a realistic understanding of the appetite for change within an organization, and what can actually be achieved through that effort from top to bottom,” he said.

Despite these challenges, Lee says he is encouraged to see the Canadian construction industry’s leaders express optimism as they look to consolidate and build on post-pandemic progress. In particular, this survey shows half of the respondents see a need to embrace greater collaboration in projects among stakeholders, and half of them are well on their way in their digital transformation journey.

Some also recognize the opportunity to leverage the massive amounts of data generated through the use of technology to make more data-driven decisions across every phase of the construction life cycle. Ultimately, smarter construction empowers construction businesses to have better control of their projects and deliver higher quality builds. 

All images courtesy of Procore Technologies Inc.