Top 3 Things the Building Industry Needs to Watch for in 2020

A new year and a new decade have arrived bringing new hopes and expectations, both personally and professionally. It’s also a good time to reflect on the previous year. For our team, we experienced immense growth and development in 2019 and the same can be said about our industry.

Looking Back: Last Year’s Key Changes to the Building Industry

The past year was a big one for mass timber construction and we expect it will only get bigger in 2020 with the National Building Code changes allowing the construction of tall wood buildings up to 12-storeys from the current limit of six. The only exception is British Columbia which secured permission from the National Research Council (NRC) to adopt the rules right away.

This industry has welcomed this new-ish construction capability as a more sustainable material. For us, it has created challenges, as there hasn’t been enough noise and vibration data about how sound reacts and moves through these types of structures. At the same time, aiming to achieve the same level of acoustic performance has required us to take our key learnings from our wood building experience such as the WIDC (Wood Innovation and Design Centre) and come up with additional creative approaches to the challenges that typically come with mass timber construction.

The investment in arts and culture is another big shift. Aercoustics was part of a number of libraries, theatres, museums, performance venues and studios designed in 2019. This was refreshing to see not just from a business perspective, but because we believe that our arts and cultural spaces build strong communities.

Investment in transit was another trend 2019, particularly here in the congestion-challenged city of Toronto. As transit looks to expand within the confines of city streets, we are working to manage the potential noise and vibration concerns around the new systems.

Looking ahead, there are big changes expected that will have tremendous implications for the building industry.

Top 3 Industry Changes Making an Impact in 2020

1. Changes to the Ontario Building Code:

Following the lead nationally, the Ontario Building Code will now require developments to comply with an acoustic as-built performance level in the residential market.  The as-built sound isolation performance of a demising partition must be within three points of its specified level. This means, the building code requires STC-50 for most demising partitions, but now they must test to STC-47. This is a significant and stringent change. This single change means that there will be greater emphasis on construction quality and will require a substantial amount of design effort to ensure the as-built performance can be achieved. Noise is one of the biggest complaint issues in high-rise buildings. The code change attempts to reduce this by requiring conformance to a stringent as-built performance requirement. While this requires more design services to ensure compliance, it should result in higher quality buildings with less noise complaints.

2. Increasing Popularity of Modular Construction:

Prefabrication in construction is not a new concept. For many years, we have seen modular construction in the form of pre-fabricated concrete. Now, newer companies are constructing everything from hotels to student residences as independent steel custom boxes that can be drop shipped and plugged in. Like mass timber construction, prefabricated building materials assembled on site offer significant savings in terms of time and the number of people required to work on site. As demand continues to grow for greener, faster and more cost-effective projects, we expect that this type of construction will be even more popular in 2020 and the future.

3. Increasing Adoption of Procurement Model:

The third major shift is the new-ish construction procurement model called Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). This model is valuable because it takes what can potentially be an adversarial relationship between the owners, designers, contractors and architect and turns it into a true collaboration between all parties, incentivizing them to achieve the project goals while reducing costs. All parties carry some of the risk and share in the cost savings. It should reduce the amount of conservative design and construction and result in a project with less changes or coordination costs during construction. IPD has been in Canada since 2014 but as with all new approaches, it takes time to adopt, and we believe we will see many more projects being procured on this model.

Attracting and Retaining Talent in a Tight Labour Market

While these three changes impact the overall industry, there is another major factor impacting the industry and will likely be a growing challenge in 2020: attracting and retaining top talent.

Any company knows good talent is tough to acquire and retain. Firms are competing with each other for highly-skilled talent and the industry is competing with other sectors of the economy. Compounding this issue is many baby boomers will begin to retire, deepening the shortage. A report from Engineers Canada entitled Engineering Labour Market in Canada: Projections to 2020 found that 95,000 professional engineers will retire by 2020. This will create a significant skills shortage since the workforce cannot be replaced fast enough. As they leave, they will take with them decades of institutional knowledge.

Building Strong Future Teams

In this new decade of a tight labour market, we will need to ensure we have a knowledge management strategy to capture and transfer this learning for use in the on-boarding of successors. We also need to invest in culture and HR approaches to develop and grow our teams.

But talent management initiatives focusing solely on the traditional areas of recruitment and retention won’t be enough. We must focus on training, coaching and developing talent and engaging them and offering opportunities that help them reach their full potential. Managing talent in this labour market will only be successful if we let go of outdated retention strategies and identify new and inspiring talent management methods that not only nurture employees but also inspire them. Companies may benefit from exploring new opportunities, like reaching global talent pools for recruiting.

The new decade holds promise for the industry and the exciting projects to be developed. But it will remain challenging to maintain a workforce that can take advantage of all of the opportunities.