Meeting 4: Caution and Perspective
Adrenaline-fuelled efforts to retain capacity whilst adhering to the Provincial Health Authority guidelines on social distancing produced a rapid shift toward remote operations for both consultants and clients. Thousands of new offices opened across the province as team members set to work from their kitchen counters, basements, and (for a lucky few) pre-existing home offices.
This remarkable transition means that consultants are maintaining momentum on existing projects and actively pursuing new business. Similarly, clients continue to affirm their commitment to open and upcoming procurements, summer construction schedules, and other planned work.
These changes may leave us optimistic, and certainly there is much to support our optimism. Engineering and construction are essential services in BC, which allows us to continue planning, designing, assessing, and building. While much of the economy has shutdown completely, BC consulting engineering companies continue to operate at or near capacity.
As we look forward, the following challenges and opportunities were raised by the group:
- Adaptation: Engineering and construction projects are adapting to changes such as new safety protocols. Increased communication with team members, installation of hygiene facilities on job sites, and moving to time shifted operations are all being employed to ensure a safe workplace. This mindset will need to be maintained as we learn to navigate the new reality.
- Bumps in the road: Unanticipated bumps in the road are likely to continue to impact project schedules. Delays may result from governance – like finding space on a Council agenda for approvals – or fundamental issues like access to labour or supply. Regardless, project contracts and schedules will need to be more accommodating and flexible.
- Technology: While most consulting engineering firms enthusiastically adopt technology tools to support efficiency in practice, many clients did not have access to resources to support such changes. Clients who were not already able accept electronic (engineering) seal or digital proposal submission when this crisis hit are being asked to make significant business practice changes very quickly. These practices may not seem complicated but shifting to accept digital proposals in a system design for paper can be profound. Files are large and digital transmission introduces data security challenges. Patience is required as the necessary processes are developed. ACEC-BC can support these changes if alerted to the challenge.
The ACEC-BC COVID-19 Advisory Group continues to monitor and act to support the principles health and safety and industry resilience.
- Permitting: Following a letter to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to encourage the Minister to address inefficiencies in application of the Water Sustainability Act, we have received information that the Ministry have new team members in place to manage known bottlenecks in the processes.
- Contract Management: ACEC-BC is partnering with Singleton Reynolds to offer a webinar on April 29 on legal and insurance mechanisms to help manage delays in construction resulting from the pandemic.
- Liquidity: The Advisory Group will continue to monitor cash flow between parties, especially as clients publicly share concerns regarding financial health.
- Consulting Capacity: While capacity remains available to clients, consultants are beginning to consider how best to sustain their workforce over a longer term. Curtailment of hiring is expected to have a significant impact seasonal employment for student practitioners and recruitment of experienced practitioners is not a priority at this time.
The team will meet again on Thursday, April 16 to review any emerging issues and will continue to address areas of common interest.
Questions? Concerns? We want to hear from you. Submit your comments and issues through the ACEC-BC online feedback portal available on the ACEC-BC Resource Centre. Issues submitted will be forwarded to the Advisory Group for review and comment.