Celebrating the past, embracing the future the Vancouver Regional Construction Association turns 90!

The Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) – the largest regional construction association in British Columbia – is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Established in 1929, the association is the fifth-largest construction association in Canada and serves more than 700 general and trade contractors, manufacturers, suppliers and professional services providers operating in the industrial, commercial, institutional and high-rise residential construction industry.

VRCA’s members are small, medium and large businesses, that are both union and non-union, who build vibrant communities, state-of-the-art buildings and essential infrastructure across the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and Sea-to-Sky region.


The construction industry in B.C. and the Lower Mainland

B.C.’s construction industry is the crown jewel in Canada’s construction landscape. With $205 billion of proposed construction on its books, $114 billion in construction underway and $16 billion delivered annually, it generates 8.6 per cent of B.C.’s wealth. The industry employs nearly 250,000 men and women, making it the largest employer in B.C.’s goods sector.

While opportunity abounds, B.C.’s industry also has key milestones on its horizon:

  • By 2028, the sector is projected to face a skilled labour shortage that will leave 25,700 jobs unfilled; and
  • By 2030, the industry will be building carbon neutral buildings across the province.

In the Lower Mainland, a hotbed of activity, the milestones will arrive more quickly:

  • By 2021, the region’s industry is projected to face a skilled labour shortfall that will leave 12,100 jobs unfilled; and
    By 2025, most new commercial and residential buildings in Vancouver will need to be built to zero-emission standards (with all new building achieving the status by 2030).

These milestones, together with the projection that by 2041, one million people are expected to relocate to Metro Vancouver, means the industry is under immense pressure to build faster, greener and more productively than ever before. Therein lies the challenge and the opportunity for the industry and associations like VRCA.


VRCA’s vision and M.O.

With a rich history dating back 90 years, VRCA is focused forward, believing that it is a conduit to the future with a clear role to play informing how the construction industry evolves. And it knows it has to evolve itself.

VRCA’s Board of Directors is a progressive group focused on writing the next chapter of the association’s history so that it builds on the good work of the past and has a positive impact on the future. The board believes that excellence, underpinned by a culture of learning and innovation, is a critical factor for the survival and prosperity of both VRCA’s members, and B.C.’s construction industry.

VRCA’s team is equally inspired. At the helm is Fiona Famulak, a Scottish Chartered Accountant who is passionate about connecting with members and industry stakeholders, understanding their needs, and taking practical steps to get things done. Her team members are equally passionate, each valuing the relationships they enjoy with VRCA members and considering themselves a part of members’ teams, ready to support as needed.


Innovation Though Education, Advocacy and Facilitation

It is this energy and clarity of purpose that has informed VRCA’s 2017-2020 strategic plan, a roadmap that focuses on excellence through adoption of best-in-class approaches, construction innovation and business strategies to bring about the transformational change the industry needs, and at the heart of which are VRCA’s members.

Execution of the plan sees VRCA elevating its industry roles – to Educate, Advocate and Facilitate – through the evolution and development of programs and services to harness the opportunities and address the challenges facing members. The three pillars are underpinned by a foundation of four business goals to optimize the use of VRCA’s building, achieve full brand recognition as a construction centre of excellence in the marketplace, continue to adopt best practice board governance and operational processes and procedures, and achieve long-term financial viability.

Why is education important? “Education is a bridge to excellence,” says Famulak. “We want to foster a culture of continuous learning across the industry by offering world-class technical and non-technical training.”

According to BuildForce Canada’s 2019-2028 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward report, B.C.’s labour market will be put to the test over the next decade, as the need to resource major projects will put a strain on the available local workforce. Twenty-two per cent of the current labour force is expected to retire in the coming decade. The retirement of 44,200 workers from the province’s construction industry, combined with the increased demand for project labour, will outpace the number of newcomers typically attracted to the industry, creating a significant skilled labour shortage that will require construction companies to be proactive and to think outside-of-the-box.

Understanding the importance of education, in 2018, VRCA commissioned an industry-wide education needs assessment, to define an optimal suite of educational offerings, structures and delivery formats to encourage and enable B.C.’s construction industry to take on the new challenges afforded by the new policies, products and practices that are entering the marketplace.

The results of the study have been integral to the evolution of VRCA’s education program in recent months and will continue to inform its future course so that it resonates with and supports the many demographics in the industry from an apprentice to a C-Suite executive.

Why is advocacy important? “We want to foster an environment that encourages collaboration, innovation and adoption of standard practices to promote fair, open and transparent business practices.” says Famulak.

Whether it is because of the influx of new technologies or the increasingly demanding performance requirements imposed by governments and the public, construction projects are becoming more complex. Architects, engineers and contractors must work closer together, and with the owner community to ensure value is delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.

Those who work on the front line of the construction industry have long been aware of the challenges that stand in the way of efficient project delivery. Inconsistently applied procurement models, managing the work and risk associated with incomplete design drawings, use of non-standard contract documents, and lack of prompt payment for work complete all contribute to less-than-efficient project delivery.

VRCA’s approach to advocacy is multi-pronged. In addition to advocating on behalf of its members at all levels of government to ensure that good public policy is in place to support the industry and business generally, VRCA proactively engages procurers of construction and a range of industry stakeholders, as well as students, teachers and, at times, the general public, to foster mutual understanding of key industry issues with a view to achieving positive outcomes.

For example, to address the looming skills shortage, VRCA engages students and teachers through its volunteer-led school outreach program, where the volunteers, many from VRCA’s Under40 Network, present the myriad career opportunities in construction to a captive student audience. Since the program kicked off in 2015, VRCA has engaged over 5,300 youth.

“Currently 1 in 45 students pursue a skilled trade on leaving high school.” notes Famulak. “We need to get that ratio to approximately 1 in 7, if we are to respond effectively to the 2028 projected labour shortage.”

When it comes to the process of construction, B.C. is leading the country in sustainable building practices. In particular, Vancouver has one of the most progressive set of policies around zero emission buildings, and industry is being challenged to respond quickly and innovatively.

As the industry’s hub, VRCA is the proud host of Canada’s first and only Zero Emissions Building Exchange (ZEBx), a collaborative platform, seed-funded predominantly by the City of Vancouver, that strengthens the public, private and civic capacities for zero emission buildings in Vancouver and B.C., facilitates knowledge exchange and catalyzes action to accelerate market transformation.

Marking its first anniversary in March 2019, ZEBx has already secured its spot in industry as the go-to resource for all-things-zero-emissions, engaging more than 2,800 participants at 35 events, and providing almost 17,000 training hours to upwards of 600 education course participants.

Why is facilitating connections important? “Our industry depends on connections,” says Famulak. “Connections to people, bidding opportunities and, because the majority of our members are small- and medium-sized enterprises, ways to save money are crucial. We therefore want to enable connections and opportunities across the industry by offering a range of business-oriented programs.”

It’s why VRCA offers more than 20 events each year that connect 4,000 leaders from across industry. It’s why it offers access to over 4,500 bidding opportunities per year through its BidCentral platform. It’s why it offers its members an Employee Benefits Plan that is tailored specifically for construction companies.

“As the industry’s one-stop-shop for programs and services, we help members save time so they can focus on what they do best.” adds Famulak.

Looking to the future

VRCA is evolving quickly so that it can help industry build faster, greener and more productively than ever before. It is changing perceptions, dispelling myths and helping to resolve persistent problems. And it is promoting construction as a cool industry to work in.

It has support from inside and outside the industry, possesses direct lines into local and national innovation champions as well as thought leaders in the UK, Europe and US including the World Economic Forum.

Change is not easy – it takes courage, time and effort. VRCA, through its engaged board, passionate staff, diverse member base and stakeholder network is leading the charge.

VRCA’s next 90 years are already underway!