By Dave Carpenter

For over a century, CARM has unified the voice of the rural Manitoba construction industry.

Located in Brandon, Manitoba, the Construction Association of Rural Manitoba provides services and representation to its members while acting as a liaison between members, consumers of construction services and other interested groups.

“We advocate for workforce development by promoting careers in construction, education opportunities and training,” says CARM’s Executive Director, Shawn Wood. CARM also lobbies Manitoba’s municipal and provincial governments on behalf of the province’s construction industry and is a member of CCA (Canadian Construction Association), who advocates on CARM’s behalf with the federal government to implement legislation and regulations CARM believes are warranted.

“That includes industry standards that we feel aren’t fair or that need to change either to keep our members safe on job sites or the general public,” Wood says.

Education A focus for CARM

CARM also works with Assiniboine Community College (ACC) in Brandon, MB, to promote careers in construction and with Apprenticeship Manitoba to build awareness of the province’s existing workplace opportunities.

“It’s more than just swinging a hammer. We have administration positions, HR positions and finance positions,” Wood says. “There’s a bigger spectrum than what people normally think when you think ‘construction.’ We want to educate and bring in young people to build that workforce.”

Wood believes there’s flexibility now more than ever to educate and train the province’s new workers. “Everything’s gone virtual right now. We do some in-house training, but we offer some virtual training as well,” he says. “It’s all part of trying to build the construction industry and support our workers.” CARM is in the process of offering all of its construction education classes online, which should alleviate discrepancies in how many students sign up for any given course.

“This means, if one person signs up for the course, we can still run it through a third party,” Wood says. “People won’t have to spend more money to send their staff here; they can do it from their home or office, which makes education easier for our membership because we are spread throughout Manitoba.”

Pandemic Presents Challenges to Manitoba construction Industry

Manitoba saw the number of building permits drop earlier in the year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent rise in project shutdowns. This resulted in fewer work opportunities within the province’s construction industry, and for CARM’s membership.

“The government has said that there’s infrastructure money coming. We’re still waiting to see how that’s going to be dispersed and where, exactly, it’s going.” Wood says. Wood also notes that bringing workers back to construction projects has been a challenge.

“In Manitoba, we were considered essential from the get-go but with the lack of jobs, and with work going down, people were laid off. Also, with the CERB payments, getting people back to work was a bit of a struggle,” Wood says.

Additionally, a lumber shortage across Canada (partially due to the pandemic), CN Railway layoffs, the 2019 spruce beetle infestation in BC and Canada’s softwood lumber dispute with the United States inhibited lumber transportation services, which contributed to price increases, according to Wood – all told a perfect storm for Manitoba construction project costs, and ultimately, consumers.

“When our guys are putting out their bids, it increases the price that the end-user is paying to have the jobs done,” he says. That said, Wood expects the lumber industry to meet its forecasting targets by this coming December, which should mitigate the industry’s current slowdown in the long-term.

Raising Awareness of CARM and Its Members

CARM has its own magazine, Building Rural Manitoba, provided for members of the association and released in the Spring and Fall (Wood expects the Fall issue to be released near the end of November 2020).

The magazine serves CARM regional members and municipalities, dispersed across remote areas of the province that are hard to reach. As a result, CARM sends the magazine to central, heavily-used locations, such as local businesses and city halls.

“It just gives people the idea that we’re out there. In the magazine, we spotlight our membership and major projects that have happened in Manitoba,” Wood says. “We’re quite excited about our next issue. We really focused on rural projects outside of the Brandon market, we have some projects in the Sioux Valley and some Manitoba Hydro projects that we’ve done. We’re quite excited to really showcase rural Manitoba.”

CARM’s digital marketing and communications channels include their Facebook page, LinkedIn presence and their tendering platform Plan Point, created in 2019 by CARM staff and implemented in 2020.

“This is our first year using our own tendering platform. Plan Point offers our membership the ability to get daily emails that tell them about projects that are closing and how many new projects have gone in the system. We also have a map where they can see where the job’s located,” Wood says. Members can also search by location to pick jobs, or by the division in the construction industry. Companies can also advertise job postings on the Plan Point website.

CARM’s Marketing Initiatives Bear Fruit

Wood believes that CARM could be on course to hit the same number of tenders in 2020 that they put out in 2019, and perhaps even more, despite a challenging year for Manitoba’s construction industry.

“It’s a little hard to tell this time of year because things do start slowing down, but we’re hoping to be able to exceed our tenders goal over the next couple of months,” he says.

Wood’s optimistic about CARM’s direction going forward and the strong support of its members, which he believes will broaden CARM’s footprint throughout rural Manitoba.

“We want to make sure that all rural Manitobans in the construction industry are heard, supported and unified so that when we take things to the province or the municipalities, we’re speaking with one voice.”

In practical terms, Wood says that means getting out to more rural areas in Manitoba and interacting with community members in person, barring a surge in COVID-19.

To that end, CARM has partnered with the Brandon Chamber of Commerce to reach out to underrecognized communities, including the province’s aboriginal community, to assist in local construction projects and develop a platform that ensures fair tendering and bid processes, better pricing and high-quality work.

At the end of the day, CARM members themselves live and work in communities across Manitoba, whom the association employs to reach out to and utilize construction workers.

“It’s not just members going out and trying to find people. Right now, we have 173 members. That means I can get this out to 173 construction and associated companies that I can have the opportunity to bid”, Wood says.

Ultimately, Wood strives to get “more bang for CARM-members’ dollars” with more tenders and bids coming in that will allow people and organizations to select the most qualified person for the job with the highest safety requirements on site at the best price that they can get.