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CURRENT NEWS: David Podmore

Originally published May 1, 2004

Skilled Trades Crisis

  David Podmore  David Podmore, President & CEO of Concert Properties has a track record many aspire to, but one that most will only dream about. In the last few weeks heard Podmore speak at a Vancouver Board of Trade meeting and most recently at a dinner hosted by the Vancouver Regional Construction Association.

The VRCA put on a great spread, complete with a cash bar and a tasty seafood pasta meal catered by the Hilton Metrotown. During the evening I had a chance to meet with a number of VRCA Members and exchange views regarding Olympic construction news. Unfortunately, on this front I didn't detect the sense of urgency I was hoping for.

Most people in the construction industry, and for that matter most small business leaders in the GVRD seem to woefully underestimate the impact the Olympics will have on small and mid size business. Podmore gets it, maybe even more than VANOC's John Furlong. I don't mean to criticize Furlong. His position is driven more from a sports and community perspective while Podmore seems to have a firmer grasp on the impact the Olympics will have for businesses in the region, including SMBs (small & mid size business). Podmore is saying all the right things and is cautioning everyone in all the appropriate areas, especially regarding the skilled trades shortage, but I don't think his laid-back west coast demeanor is getting through, at least not yet.

Podmore delivers his message clearly and with resolve, but his intellectual CEO approach isn't simple enough for the general construction populace. If they get it they certainly aren't expressing it. Granted, Olympic construction projects are small in comparison to RAV and the Port Authority, both economically and in terms of complexity, but from a public relations perspective, absolutely nothing will mean more to the GVRD and SMBs than making sure the Olympic facilities are built on time, on budget and with a bit of style. By far the facility that will deliver the greatest short, mid and long term impact will be the convention center. The whole world is watching and waiting for an invitation to knock on our door. All you have to do consider the numbers from the Sydney 2000 Games to see what happens when you do it right. It will blow you away.

For almost a decade I've developed construction industry communication strategies funded by the provincial government and targeted across all skilled trades sectors. We've had tremendous success and response. (Click my picture above for my background in this respect) I learned quickly to be blunt and hit hard. Construction people are salt of the earth. They are busy and often don't have time for subtleties. This is one of the reasons I like working with them. No B.S. However, if you don't speak their language and communicate forcefully or directly they don't hear you. I've sat in a few labour boardrooms where tempers flared, people went nose to nose and the air turned blue with expletive deletives. When it was over four hours later we all ended up in the local pub with most of the serious issues resolved and all feeling relatively unscathed.

I'm beginning to think similar tactics might be necessary in order to shake the construction industry up a bit, especially after watching the fiasco currently happening in Athens. Podmore spoke of the difficulty of finding enough skilled tradespeople in Canada. He informed everyone at the Board of Trade meeting and the VRCA dinner that the rest of Canada also has busy construction agendas. He warned both audiences it's not like it was in '86 when we could borrow labour from Alberta or Newfoundland.

We certainly don't have time to train people, which means one of the few remaining options is to lobby government and encourage them to loosen immigration regulations. I saw a few people shift in their seats when they heard this approach. Some even harumphed.

I spoke briefly with Gordon Campbell last week at a Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce breakfast and I don't recall this being part of his current agenda. Should it be in his cross hairs? Certainly. It takes time to get anything done at a federal level and if we don't start today deadlines will pass.

Stay tuned.

*Ed. Note: We invested over three years and a six-figure budget researching Olympic organization relationships with sponsors, contractors, suppliers, partners, etc. The results surprised us too -- mouseover below

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