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Gearing Toward Increased Versatility in the Construction Industry

Versatility in the Construction Industry
Versatility in the Construction Industry

4 min read

Gearing Toward Increased Versatility in the Construction Industry

Gearing Toward Increased Versatility in the Construction Industry

Versatility is the cornerstone of the ongoing revolution unfolding in the construction industry. However, is this new approach to organizing worksites the answer to challenges surrounding an already strained industry? Opinions are divided.

What is the definition of versatility as per Bill 51?

Versatility in the Construction Industry

By introducing the idea of versatility in Bill 51, the Legault government knew they were walking on eggshells. This was exposed after reading the principle of versatility as described by the proposed legislation submitted to the parliament. 

As a matter of fact, based on the explanatory notes, the legislation drafters made a point to highlight that the principle of versatility has its limits:

This legislation “(...) introduces into that Regulation the conditions allowing for the implementation of the principle of versatility, while explicitly specifying the work and trades to which such versatility may not apply.”

Therefore, to adhere to the principle of versatility, the new tasks assigned to workers must meet the following three cumulative conditions: 

  1. Be related to the journeyperson’s primary trade

  2. Align with the same workflow (including prep and finish) 

  3. Be of short term (not an entire work day)

Journeypersons for which versatility doesn’t apply: 

  • Structural workers

  • Crane operators

  • Electricians

  • Pipefitters 

  • Sprinkler fitters

  • Refrigerationists

  • Elevator mechanics 

Naturally, this raises the question of safety, for both workers and citizens, of newly constructed buildings under the principle of versatility.

How is the industry reacting?

Versatility in the Construction Industry

Employer vs. Employee: Opposing Views

For a while now, contractors have been requesting more versatility on worksites and greater labour mobility.

To narrow it down, the Association de la construction du Québec (ACQ) identified what they believed to be the root causes of Quebec's productivity deficit:  

  • Lack of labour mobility

  • Training conditions

  • Lack of versatility 

The only issue is that identifying these causes appears to be specific to that of company CEOs. However, the construction industry’s Centrale des syndicats démocractiques (CSD) admitted, via their president, Carl Dufour, that they have a differing opinion. 

According to the CSD, labour versatility and mobility concepts go against the already difficult working conditions facing industry workers. The latter is better represented by numbers: 

  • 56% of women leave the industry after 5 years

  • 35% of men leave the industry after 5 years

Yet, according to employers, the causes are different from those detailed: 

  • Dangerous working conditions

  • Employers failing to fulfil their obligations

  • Limited work-life balance

  • Unrecognized training programs

Bill 51 appears to be the epitome of the two differing views of the construction industry.  

Is task versatility a new standard?

Here are some of the perspectives that keep coming back during debates surrounding Bill 51:

  • There are but seven professional qualifications in Ontario compared to the 25 in Quebec;

  • Construction in Quebec is 10% less productive than in Ontario;

  • Versatility allows bridging the productivity gap with Ontario by one-thrid; 

  • Among others.

Indeed, two-thirds of trades in Quebec are affected by the versatility presented in Bill 51, which comes out to about eight trades, similar to Ontario. As such, this reform should improve productivity by 10%, enabling the province to inch closer to how Ontario operates.

This specific construction industry trend is explained by the fact that Quebec is competing directly with Ontario. Moreover, our neighbours to the west are also amid a labour shortage, needing 100,000 workers by 2023, and the salaries offered are twice as high as ours. 

In other words, the workforce in Quebec may genuinely hemorrhage. Therefore, to prevent that from happening, the best solution seems to be that of further developing tasks.

However, it’s hard to compare simply these two situations, as they both result from different circumstances. In Quebec, construction workers have access to a retirement plan and insurance that aren’t made available to fellow Ontarians.

How to Develop and Recognize Labour Versatility in Construction Crews

Versatility in the Construction Industry

According to union organizations, journeypersons are already carrying out their tasks with versatility. And, as it so happens, numbers don't lie—26,000 construction companies in Quebec account for less than 5 employees. 

That said, labour versatility doesn't appear to be much of a foreign concept. Moreover, this versatility is coupled with the will to have as many workers as possible join the industry to fill the void left behind. 

Fast-tracked training (we have an article dedicated to this matter) comes about as a worthwhile tool for developing worker-recognized versatility. 

However, a question remains: Will professional versatility be compensated?

Bill 51 hasn’t responded to the matter. Albeit the question is quite pertinent, as it does bring forth another one: Are all journeypersons equal? Are all versatile team members worth the same?

Given the serious repercussions a mistake can have on the health of workers and others, will specialized professionals be better compensated? Or, will situational circumstances dictate their monetary compensation?

Along with the issue regarding versatility, that of labour shortage persists, unless the CCQ is willing to recognize foreign training and certifications, as proposed in Bill 51. 

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Last modified 2024-04-04

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