What the Trades Do

By Robert R Blakely, Canadian Operating Officer, CBTU

Most people don’t think about construction and don’t even really see it except when it causes a delay on the drive to work, or it is inconvenient to get something from a building that is under renovation.

It easily escapes notice that 8% of all direct employment in Canada is in the skilled construction trades and that the Industry accounts for 14% of Canada’s GDP. This ‘invisibility’ comes from a couple of facts; first a lot of our work takes place in inaccessible or out-of –the-way places. Second is that, unlike much of the rest of the world, what we build is done correctly and our bridges do not fall down, boilers do not burst and our homes last.

CBTeThe truth is that construction is one of Canada’s threshold industries, without it no one gets on the information highway, no one can heat or light their home save by fire and no one could ‘enjoy’ the sanitation system that has reduced death and diseases. The trades impact virtually everyone, every day (and all day) and everywhere in Canada.

Think about this, when the alarm clock goes off you awake in your cozy climate controlled bedroom and smell the coffee that you set to brew the night before – the electrical power that made that happen was produced by a herd of tradespersons. It takes boilermakers, ironworkers, steamfitters, all sorts of welders and over 50 other trade disciplines to create the generating station that makes the power. The power gets to your home courtesy of the Power Lineman’s trade and it is distributed in your home by the work of the electrician. The climate control is achieved by the work of one or other of the sheetmetal worker, refrigeration mechanic, gasfitter and steamfitter (usually in some sort of combination) who installed your heating and cooling systems. While you slept you were protected from fire by the systems installed by the sprinkler fitter.

When you rub the sleep from your eyes and roll out of bed your feet hit the floor, the flooring is the product of the labour of the resilient flooring installers who installed the carpet over the sub-floor build by the carpenter. As you stumble toward the bathroom the door was installed by a carpenter who likely build the structure (it could be a bricklayer, structural steel ironworker, pre-cast ironworker or glazier depending on whether the structure was brick, post and I-beam, or curtain wall – to complicate the already complicated sometimes they work together and it is all topped off by the work of the roofer) and as you enter the bathroom you come face to face with the work of the plumber. Safe potable water and efficient waste removal is the hallmark of an advanced society. The sewers and water supply to the building are achieved by the efforts of the labourer pipe layer, the heavy equipment operator, shovel operator and surveyor (the surveyor is ubiquitous and is found on every job to ensure that things are in right place, at the right height and that the installed equipment can actually fit and function).

After scrubbing and the application of war paint, we can brave the world. As we move to the elevator likely no one thinks about the elevator constructor who spends a bit of his time installing the system and nearly 85% of his working life in repair, maintenance and preventative safety management. When we get to the basement and jump into our car the concrete foundations and parking garage were the contribution of the carpenter, crane operator, reinforcing ironworker, labourer and cement finishers. The roads we drive on were built by the heavy equipment operators (supported by the heavy duty mechanics), teamsters, labourers and surveyor. The lights and traffic control devices are the responsibility of the electrician. We build and maintain the refineries that produce the fuel you need make that car run and you need the auto repair technician to keep that car running

CBTdWhen we get to our office, we marvel at the beauty we can see from the 47th floor and we look through windows installed by the glazier, his companion trade the painter has installed wall coverings or paint on the walls, or in other cases the plasterer has deployed his skill as tradesperson and function as an artist.. The walls were installed by the Interior systems mechanic, in those walls are computer cabling, wiring, pipe and ducts that make the building work and comfortable to work in. The elements are kept out by the insulator, who also aids in energy efficiency by making systems perform well and reducing heat loss. The telephone electrician has made the phones work, and cabling he installed makes the computer system work.

If we are going to work in a manufacturing plant or any other industrial facility we rely on the trades as well. The heavy equipment is installed and maintained by the millwright. The painter may apply industrial coatings to pipe and vessels that contain dangerous goods. The pipe and vessels were produced by one of the steel plate fitter, the boilermaker or the steamfitter working with welders. All of the systems need power, water, heat, waste removable, to operate and process systems need equipment that works to incredibly small tolerances to be safe and efficient. We X-ray the work (and use many other non-destructive testing mechanisms to ensure quality and safety – the work of the Quality Control Technician) and heat treat other portions of it (the stress reliever) to ensure proper operation and safety. The Instrument Technician produces the controls system that makes much of this work automatically and shuts down an unsafe condition before a human being could even detect it.

Whether it is the medical gas in the neo-natal pediatric ward (the work of the plumber) or digging the hole for someone’s final rest (the backhoe operator) you can’t get away from us. This is just a short list of what the trades build; in truth we build Canada and make it run. We also keep it running; every system no matter how well built and robust needs repair and maintenance. Sometimes, like the case is in industrial plants, power generation stations, refineries, process equipment the system is essentially re-build in a short sharp period called a turnaround or outage. The trades that built it take it apart and rebuild it. They are supported by the carpenters who build the scaffold they need to stand on, the crane operator that makes the heavy lifts, the teamster who brings in materials and replacement equipment and most importantly on out-of-town jobs, the cooks and bakers that provide the meals that the crews need to be ready for the next day. In other cases the maintenance and preventive maintain in buildings goes on each and every day, when is the last time you heard of an elevator malfunctioning and causing death or injury??

Please appreciate this is just a snap shot of what we do, we support the standard of living Canadians enjoy. Our public buildings, sporting facilities, schools, homes, places of business and almost every structure have been built by the trades. The historic buildings in Ottawa or elsewhere were built and maintained in their time by the trades and the future will be built and maintained by the trades.