Working in Canada: Risky or Rewarding?

Posted by Steve Thomas on Thursday, February 7, 2019

Making the leap to a new country can reap vast rewards if planned carefully. Local experts can help navigate new territories and make the transition a success. But without this insight, there’s a risk of things going not quite to plan, as Laing O’Rourke has recently discovered. The UK contractor has been attracting media attention over the last year for their losses on a Canadian PFI hospital project. A joint venture with Spanish contractor OHL, the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) was billed as the largest hospital job in North America – which is saying something for a part of the world that seems to build everything supersized. What went wrong, and what can we learn from it?

A Little (Local) Knowledge

Like most things in life, things are easier when you’re working in familiar territory, and construction projects are no different. In 2011, the CHUM project was going to usher in a new era for Laing O’Rourke in the Canadian market. For a variety of reasons, the project struggled from the beginning, with the groundworks alone putting the scheme four months behind.

The language barrier will have no doubt posed a problem from the outset. Quebec is not just a French-speaking province of Canada, it actually has legislation that prescribes the use of French as the main language for business activities, amongst others. This meant that all communications, meetings, and documents had to be in French, which will have been a hurdle that a JV comprised of English- and Spanish-speaking contractors could have done without.

Another point of difference would be payment terms; or rather, late payment terms. In the UK, late payment has been hotly debated in industry media, but the reality is that there is very little most subcontractors can do to remedy late payments. Not so in Canada (and many states within the US, as well,) where subcontractors can place a lien against a property if they are not paid. In Quebec, the system is called hypotheque legale. In the event of non-payment and a subsequent claim, they can ask the judge to put the building up for sale and the cash be paid to the subcontractor for the outstanding debts. This too, also caught Laing O’Rourke off-guard, with nearly 30 claims totalling £112m (CAD$200m) put forward in 2016 and 2017 from their subcontractors.

Lessons Learnt (or Learned?)

For Laing O’Rourke, probably the biggest lesson learnt on this project was that Canada is a local market needing local knowledge and experience. That’s not to say international skills aren’t valued – quite the opposite, as our Canadian vacancies page can attest. But a local expert may have gone a long way towards helping to keep this project running smoothly – in fact, Laing O’Rourke recently subcontracted Phase Two of the CHUM project to a local Canadian contractor.

The same is true for a career move to another country. There is a lot of high-value – and interesting – work happening in Canada right now, with construction professionals such as quantity surveyors, estimators, engineers, commercial managers and project managers all required to deliver Canada’s ambitious infrastructure project pipeline. If you’re interested in working in Canada, you need expert advice from people who know the market and the best employers and projects to relocate to. Take the risk out of your next career move to Canada by speaking to us about your requirements.

About The Author

Steve Thomas
Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada
I am responsible for the Maxim Recruitment office in the UK where our team of recruitment consultants specialise in the recruitment of quantity surveyors, commercial managers, delay, dispute and claims consultants for civil engineering and building contractors and specialist construction consultancies.  I am also responsible for growing our recruitment operation in Canada and the USA where we are increasingly busy.  I have over 20 years’ experience in construction recruitment and enjoy working on both contingency and search/headhunting assignments for our repeat clients.
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