Construction File: Aboriginal Business Enhancement and Set-Aside Programs
With little to no exception, all levels of government within Canada have an aspiration to further economic development through their purchasing conduct – often highlighting specific populations and objectives.
In addition to established policies, public sector entities continue to learn and expand policy and processes to do with minority groups such as Aboriginal suppliers. Recent examples in our province can be drawn from tenders for civil construction projects where preference is given to contractors who hire Aboriginal workers or who engage in Joint Venture with Aboriginal companies.
Recent direction for Aboriginal engagement from the courts (as well as the inclusion of community impact assessments within the Environmental Assessment and Review for projects) has placed new emphasis on the demonstration of Aboriginal involvement. This results in an obvious preference being introduced into the procurement process, and a collision with industry policy in this regard.
BCCA’s policy for Minority Preferences And Set-aside Programs is:
The BC Construction Association strongly endorses the principle that neither the sex, race, religion, nor geographic domicile within the Province of the principal owners of a firm, its employees, or labour force, should be a consideration in the procurement of construction materials or services. Furthermore, the Association vigorously opposes any procurement practice or program, which seeks to confer exclusive bidding rights to firms based upon any of the foregoing characteristics.
This is not to say that BCCA is against initiatives which encourage minority groups to participate in construction and construction employment and training programs. However, some construction procurement requirements in the public sector indicate preference for employment from minority groups and services based on subjective criteria – this does not reflect a fair, open, and transparent process as the BCCA supports.
How then, can a public owner encourage employment from minority groups to work in the construction industry?
The answer lies in accessing existing industry-led employment programs.
The federal and provincial governments have funded employment programs delivered through BCCA which have successfully introduced minority workers into the construction workforce. These programs continue to operate across BC.
The success of the Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP) and the JobMatch (JM)program is attributed to the delivery model created by the BCCA, called the “Connector Model". This model utilizes field representatives who create and build on relationships with employers, and provide them with employable candidates who have been properly assessed (using our Trades Assessment Tool, and the newly created ITA Essential Skills Assessment Tool).
Candidates receive general information about our program, and are provided a one-on-one interview to determine their eligibility and employability; then, they undergo a complete assessment to identify and to create an action plan to guide them to a career path in the skilled trades.
The STEP/JM provincial infrastructure is an operating network enabling a virtual footprint which provides service on an as-needed basis across the province, capitalizing on the opportunities (as they arise) which suit the criteria of the program deliverables. As part of this infrastructure, the BCCA programs employ Trades Employment Specialists who are focused on Aboriginal individuals, to assure the delivery addresses the requirements of the program as well as to ensure cultural inclusion is an integral part of the process. The success of the STEP program is apparent in the number of Aboriginal workers who have been placed with employers. This program has had more success than any others implemented in the past, with recent data indicating an average 130 Aboriginal workers per year being placed in skilled worker positions.
Such success bodes well for both the Aboriginal workforce and construction employers as it helps provide employers with the needed workers, and it does not compromise a fair, open and transparent process for procuring construction services in the public sector.
BCCA encourages public owners to include an employer’s active participation in either STEP and JobMatch as criteria to meet their Aboriginal Inclusion or Enhancement objectives in their evaluation criteria on designated projects.
Go to http://www.stepbc.ca/ for more information on the STEP program and how to connect with your local representatives.