Research Driven, Industry Focused

Bringing people together is part of the Ontario Construction Secretariat’s (OCS) nature and one of the core reasons it exists as an organization. Back in the 1970s, there was a great deal of instability in Ontario’s Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) construction sector, and the provincial government felt it was necessary to introduce legislative reform. This instability led to the establishment of single-trade province-wide bargaining in 1978, which addressed many of the industry’s issues. By the early, 1990s, the government of the day commissioned George Adams to review the effectiveness of province-wide bargaining and to make recommendations for further improvements to the sector.

One of Adams’ recommendations was to form a self-funded organization composed of the twenty-five unionized construction trades and their contractor partners along with government representatives. With this recommendation, the Ontario Construction Secretariat was formed in 1993.

According to Bronk, “The purpose of the OCS is to enhance Ontario’s unionized ICI construction industry by developing relationships, facilitating dialogue and providing value-added research.”

In the decades since its inception, the OCS has played a major role in bringing all industry players together, conducted important industry research and promoted the value of unionized ICI construction. One of the most notable changes the industry has witnessed since those turbulent years in the 1970s has been the evolution of the labour and management partnership – both parties working together to create a strong unionized sector.

One example of that partnership is the jointly established Training Trust Funds that are used to develop and deliver apprenticeship training as well as health and safety and skills upgrade training.

Employers engaged in these Funds are able to convey their need for specific skills around equipment and procedures that will keep them up-to-date and competitive. The annual training spend by these Trust Funds approaches $40 million – exclusive of capital investments in facilities and equipment – and more than 95 training centres have been created by these partnerships throughout Ontario. The unionized sector’s focus on training ensures union members are safer, more productive workers. In fact, union workers are three times more likely to have completed their Certificate of Qualification than workers in the non-union sector.

OCS works with their partners to promote careers in the construction trades. For more than 20 years, the OCS has hosted Future Building, a hands-on learning experience where students, teachers, and career-seekers receive one-on-one instruction from construction sector professionals.

Covid-19 disrupted event calendars and businesses around the globe, and the OCS made the shift to virtual meetings in step with other organizations and took their State of the Industry & Outlook Conference (SIOC) online this year. “Registration was very robust. We were able to attract individuals from across the province and country who were interested in our presentations and research. Our agenda topics and presenters were not really impacted, only the delivery was,” said Bronk. The conference provides insights on Ontario’s economic environment, the ICI construction sector, and during non-COVID times, an opportunity to bring stakeholders together for valuable networking opportunities.

OCS also pivoted its research initiatives to capture the impact of Covid-19 on the construction industry. From March through the fall of 2020, the OCS conducted a series of surveys to determine the economic impact of the pandemic and to uncover contractors’ priorities and projections. For the ICI sector, the foremost concern during the early days of the pandemic was ensuring the health and safety of workers. This meant a steep learning curve to improve sanitation facilities on job sites, provide personal protective equipment and re-organize work schedules to address physical distancing requirements.

The OCS also provides regular insights on Ontario’s economic environment, construction activity and labour market trends. This market trend data is presented through stakeholder bulletins and at conferences to foster dialogue to engage labour and management on both a formal and informal basis.

As CEO since the fall of 2017, Bronk has witnessed how the quality and findings of OCS research is relied on throughout the ICI industry and across multiple provincial ministries. Earlier this year, OCS was pleased to share the findings of the Union Safety Effect study, which found unionization is associated with a lower risk of lost-time injury claims, resulting in safer job sites, increased productivity, and better worker morale. Although funded by the OCS, this research was independently conducted by the Institute for Work and Health. It is through this type of thoughtful, independent research that OCS provides value to our labour and management stakeholders. The identification of a Union Safety Effect creates dialogue and an examination of best practices from unionized building trade construction sites. This, in turn, will aid in making construction sites safer for all.

Bronk makes it clear that the organization does not lobby the province on behalf of the ICI sector; rather, it provides information that informs decision making. The participation of government representatives on the OCS Board enables labour and management to speak as one cohesive unit with government.

Looking to the future, Bronk is confident that continued excellence in its events and research will create value for OCS’s stakeholders, maintain the integrity of its publications, and ensure its continued role as a strong, respected voice for the unionized ICI sector. The last year has underscored its relevance and demonstrated its responsiveness in a changing environment.