Mediaplanet: What types of technological innovations are playing a transformational role in shaping the future of the construction industry in Canada?

Kim Johnson: Technological innovations in visualization, mobility, and energy modeling are shaping the future of the industry. As expected, each is being driven by the market. The convergence of design and construction is contributing to the increased use and acceptance of BIM or, more broadly, virtual construction. A push for improved productivity, and often time’s remote nature of project sites, is being supported by better mobility options allowing field supervision to be out of site trailers and closer to the workforce. Lastly, growing demand for energy-efficient structures is being helped by improvements in energy modeling that now facilitate design alignment in real-time.

MP: How did you originally start your career in construction, and what advice would you give to someone interested in a career in the industry?

KJ: My move into the construction industry occurred serendipitously. I paid my way through university, working each summer as a site labourer. Originally, I viewed construction as a means to cover tuition, not as a potential career. As I gained experience, I recognized just how rewarding construction can be.  

Construction is unlike any other sector – young people are given significant responsibility early in their careers. It’s exciting, technically demanding and requires the ability to merge the abstract with the real world. My advice, take an interest and research; reach out to strong companies like Graham. What you discover will surprise you.

MP: Whose responsibility is it to address the current problems affecting efficient infrastructure updates and projects nearing end of lifecycle? 

KJ: Significant infrastructure deficit in North America is a large, complex problem. Addressing it is beyond any single entity. It would involve construction, financiers, designers, trade unions and government. The challenge for government is what they can afford.  

At Graham, one of the most effective ways to mitigate this challenge is through the P3 delivery model. This offers government the opportunity to focus on infrastructure renewal by leveraging the private sector, placing more risk/responsibility on them to deliver. This is a great solution for governments with constrained finances or who are concerned about the risk associated with these types of projects. 

MP: Why is it important for companies to enforce current initiatives and setup future framework to ensure that construction in Canada remains environmentally responsible and resourceful for years to come?

KJ: The construction industry delivers the “built environment.” Part of the environment is provided by nature and part is human-made. Ideally, they should complement rather than compete with each other – it’s important for companies to work towards this goal. Increasing awareness about concerns associated with material waste, and the sustainability of non-renewable energy resources continues to drive industry practices.  

Green building and sustainability programs are important ways to promote consistent practice and standards across trades, designers, contractors, and operators. Progress over the past years has been tremendous; the industry continues to gain momentum, exhibiting great leadership with respect to environmental responsibility.  

MP: What current industry trend do you see being the most influential regarding industry investment over the next 10 – 15 years?

KJ: Construction suffers from a barbell demographic curve, with many people near the end and the beginning of their careers – resulting in significant industry challenges.  

Our most experienced workers have considerable job knowledge, but a lot of that is tacit. It has typically been passed on through mentoring and informal training. The opportunity and challenge for construction over the next 10 - 15 years is to bridge the demographic gap. We need to find ways to extend the tenures of experienced workers so they continue to teach and mentor, both informally and through structured techniques. We also need to accelerate learning opportunities for younger workers.