The Unsung Heroes of Public Sector Construction

Government is the largest construction owner in BC:  taxpayers fund billions of dollars’ worth of construction projects every year at the provincial and municipal levels. Over $75BN worth of large projects were underway during 2017 in BC, with another $325BN coming down the pike.

These are big projects and big dollars, and they affect communities across every region of BC. When the public sector does a good job with procurement on a construction project, everyone benefits. The projects have better outcomes, cost less, and are more likely to be completed on time.

The truth is, procurement professionals are the unsung (and often invisible) heroes of a construction project: if procurement isn’t done well, it sets the entire project on a path to higher risk of cost overruns and delays.

Procuring construction services in the public sector is a highly specialized practice requiring unique experience, knowledge and skill. With contractors in demand, resources at a premium and timelines tight—now more than ever procurement professionals hold the master key to a successful project delivery.

The high rate of retirement amongst public sector procurement professionals is causing ripples of concern across BC’s construction industry (which is experiencing the same demographic shift).  With the changing of the guard, collaboration between public sector and industry will help to ensure that important legacy knowledge and experience is passed on to the next generation of professionals.

The BC Construction Association, the province’s provincial advocate for the industrial, commercial, and industrial construction sector, recognized seven public projects and owners for excellence in construction procurement in 2017. The initiative was spearheaded by Warren Perks, VP of Industry Practices and chair of the Industry Standards and Practices committee, which contributed to the creation of the list of honorees:

  • Public Works & Government Services Canada (Pacific Region) for procurement practices

•           Town of Smithers for the Airport Expansion Project

•           Lower Mainland Facilities Management Health Authorities for procurement practices

•           Interior Health Authority for procurement practices

•           Defense Construction Canada Comox Procurement Team for procurement practices

•           City of Vernon for the Vernon Multi-Use Facility Expansion

•           Vancouver Island Health Authority for procurement practices


“Achieving excellence in construction procurement is a difficult task, and it’s near impossible to get everything done perfectly” says Warren Perks, VP Director of Industry Practices for BCCA. “However these owners worked hard to achieve high standards of fairness and transparency on their projects, and we felt they should be recognized.”

The Infrastructure Masterclass is a key resource and catalyst for dialogue around construction procurement.  Introduced at the end of 2017, the day-long intensive course is provided by the regional construction associations and attended by public sector construction procurers:  the response has strongly reinforced the need for greater awareness of the significance of this work and the responsibilities of the professionals who undertake it.       

 “Ultimately, public owners whose contract opportunities are distinguished by professional, well-structured procurement processes and project outcomes achieve a reputation as owners of choice,” says Chris Atchison, President of BCCA.

For the foreseeable future, with major  public projects like Site C moving ahead and LNG Canada gearing up to make its final investment decision, the construction market in BC is not likely to cool down.  As competition amongst owners for high quality contractors continues to make BC a seller’s market, owners should not underestimate the importance of the construction procurement process.

“Make sure your procurement team is fully up-to-date on the construction delivery options and how to assess their suitability for your project,” cautions Atchison. “There are unique public sector obligations that must be met in regard to fair, open and transparent processes.  The Associations are here to help with evaluation strategies and gathering market intelligence, so we all get it right from the beginning. That’s a win for everyone.”

It remains to be seen who the Best in Public Sector Procurement honorees will be for 2018, but we know one thing for sure: their visibility of owners of choice in BC’s construction sector will help them attract the best contractors to their projects for years to come.

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