City of Vancouver CBA Policy boosts construction sector impact on local projects

Dec 27th, 2023

Natalia is one of 25 workers EMBERS Staffing has on site at New St Paul’s working for PCL.

City of Vancouver’s CBA Policy is currently applied to several construction projects which are creating inclusive jobs and keeping money in the community.

Vancouver, December 27, 2023 – Construction projects have the potential to build more than just structures, they can create additional benefits for community. A Community Benefit Agreement has legal or contractual requirements to create specific social benefits on construction and development projects. Social benefit targets can include inclusive hiring, skills training, or local and social procurement. In Vancouver, the City’s Community Benefit Agreements (CBA) Policy is currently applied to several projects throughout the city which are exceeding targets, creating jobs for equity-deserving groups and supporting local businesses and social enterprises.

In 2018, City of Vancouver became Canada’s first major city to institute a mandatory CBA Policy for development projects over 45,000 square metres. According to the City, the CBA “allows developers to align with the needs of equity denied communities and contribute to a shared vision for Vancouver.”

The first project in Vancouver to trigger the mandatory CBA is the New St. Paul’s Hospital, which broke ground in spring 2021. PCL Construction, the design-builder for the $2.174 billion project, are committed to work toward goals of 10% hiring of local individuals from equity-deserving groups and 10% local and 10% social purchasing.

As the first general contractors to implement the City’s CBA policy, PCL has established themselves as a leader in Vancouver and is actively collaborating with the City and community stakeholders to support and improve the CBA, maximizing community benefits in Vancouver’s inner city.

“PCL has a long history of supporting the communities in which we live, work, and play. The City’s CBA has allowed the team at New St. Paul’s Hospital to take that to another level by engaging local businesses and social enterprises to provide labour, materials, and services to the project. Businesses like EMBERS, Finch’s Tea House, CleanStart, Demolition Impossible and Agro Roasters, to name a few, have been engaged by PCL and our trade partners to provide various services and it’s great to know that those purchases support the community where this project is taking place.” – Bruce Norman, Project Director for New St. Paul’s Hospital, PCL Construction

Buy Social Canada is a social enterprise that works on social procurement projects across the country, including implementation and third-party monitoring on New St. Paul’s and other CBA projects.

Based on data shared with Buy Social Canada by PCL and key sub-contractors on site, the project is currently exceeding all three Community Benefit Agreements targets.

Between February 2021 and October 2023, 46% of new employees have voluntarily self-identified as an equity-deserving group, and almost 15% of new employees identify as both an equity-deserving group and reside in the neighbourhoods surrounding the project in Vancouver. New employees have filled a variety of roles, including hourly and salaried positions.

Total spend to date on the project is $757.8 million. 20% of the total project spend, $153 million, has been awarded or directly spent with businesses in Vancouver. As of October 2023, the project has achieved double the CBA local procurement target.

11% of the total project spend, $85.4 million, has been directed to social enterprises, social impact businesses, and diverse or equity-deserving owned businesses. Businesses captured in this metric are verified through either third-party certifiers or self-identification methods approved by the City of Vancouver.

CBA outcomes are about so much more than numbers and quantitative data. While the stories of impact and success from CBA implementation don’t always show up in graphs, they have tangible impacts on the lives of community members, like Natalia.

Natalia and her husband connected with EMBERS Staffing to find work when they immigrated to Canada. EMBERS Staffing is a social enterprise temporary staffing agency based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that creates employment and economic opportunities for people facing barriers. Through EMBERS, Natalia has been working for PCL at New St. Paul’s as a general labourer since May 2023.

“Being an immigrant is a massive challenge because you must start everything from scratch. We have three kids, and it was critical to get a job as soon as we landed in Canada. EMBERS made this possible and immediately gave me a work opportunity with PCL, even though I had yet to gain construction experience. Working at PCL through EMBERS has been a life-changing experience for our family,” Natalia explains.

“EMBERS and PCL have supported our career development, providing us with work gear and training that allows us to upscale our job opportunities and increase our monthly income. But the biggest reward is the chance to work in a multicultural environment which supports women in the trades and will help us grow professionally and personally. I appreciate the support from both companies, they have made our Canadian experience less stressful and filled it with great expectations and hope.”

Natalia is just one of 20 to 25 people EMBERS Staffing has on site daily working with PCL. The workers are on site as general labourers, hoist operators and carpenters, and EMBERS has been working closely with PCL to ensure their workers can be trained to continue to respond to upcoming needs for the project. Not only does this help PCL and the New St. Paul’s Hospital project, but the workers can also take those skills to other projects.

“We’re not just hiring workers we’re giving them the opportunity to grow and giving our community the chance to keep improving.” – Marcia Nozick, CEO, EMBERS

In addition to New St. Paul’s, there are other CBAs currently in progress in Vancouver, including 150 West Georgia, which will create work and entertainment spaces above a new steam power plant.

The project is still in its early stages, but the project team led by Peak Construction is following PCL’s lead and working with EMBERS Staffing and other local businesses and social enterprises to meet targets and support community.

“Construction is a market where there is a lot of money going in and out, and sadly there are some things you just have to buy overseas, but I’m hoping by having the CBA it will have an incentive for trades to pursue accreditations, and as an overall industry, support more equity-deserving groups.” – Dylan Huang, Senior Project Coordinator, Peak Construction

If you’d like to learn more about this story or explore opportunities for social procurement in construction, please contact us.

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