There is a new executive director at the helm of the Edmonton Construction Association (ECA), a 1,134-member association of commercial, industrial and institutional construction professionals.
John McNicoll took on the post four months ago, after 30 years in the non-profit sector.
He said the board’s vision is to care for ECA members and maximize business opportunities.
Additionally, McNicoll said he has been directed to provide leadership to the industry and to remove the isolation the ECA has experienced from other groups in the past.
“We’ve had a broken relationship with the ACA (Alberta Construction Association) and also with the other eight LCAs (local construction associations) in the province,” he said.
“We’ve had a severed relationship with all of them and have chosen in the past, under other leadership, to go in a unique direction and not the co-operative and collaborative (approach). My voice has been to say to the whole community of construction that the ECA, at this time, is choosing to be co-operative and collaborative, and to join those organizations again.”
McNicoll said the ECA plans to participate in and contribute to the various groups.
Mending fences has been an ongoing process early in his tenure.
“I think the way we will mend our relationships is with a certain amount of humility and an appropriate attitude of collaboration and co-operation, and feeling that we would join and become part of the group and make things happen in the directions we’d like to see, rather than seeking to be insular and making things happen as just an individual in complete separation and – a strong word would be – rebellion of those other groups,” McNicoll said.
“I think the co-operative path takes a lot of work. It’s worthwhile, and it’s something in my past experiences I’m very familiar with (in terms of) tensions and regional tensions.”
McNicoll grew up surrounded by tools.
One grandfather was the owner of a hardware store in Sidney, B.C.; the other worked in the trade in Ontario.
Growing up, McNicoll had a basement full of tools at his disposal.
“Most people played with toys. I played with tools and I had a great deal of fun. I built tree forts. I built go carts. I built fancy sleighs, and I endlessly built things from scrap wood,” he said.
That early hands-on experience, combined with an excellent and memorable woodworking teacher in junior high school, allowed McNicoll to hone his skills as a woodworker, ultimately crafting a rocking chair with handmade spindles and a single piece frame that he spent hours steaming and bending into shape.
“I’d come in two hours before class and became a person that had skills in terms of fine furniture making because of all the hours I was able to put into it,” he said.
“I fell in love with wood and I fell in love with construction and all those kinds of things. I thought that may be my life.”
That love of construction lead to McNicoll starting his first roofing company at the age of 18, an enterprise that employed six of his younger friends.
His methods were unorthodox.
On a steep roof project, the young entrepreneur purchased some sailing harnesses to keep his crew safe on the job.
After running the roofing company for several years, McNicoll seized on an opportunity to start his own shake and shingle mill in BC, which he ran successfully before embarking on a 30-year journey with Young Life, a Christian organization that works with junior high and high school students in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
McNicoll has a degree in education, as well as a Masters in Theology and most of a doctorate in education, all obtained with an eye towards helping young people in the organization.
Though the organization drew on McNicoll’s teaching and social skills, there were times when his past knowledge of construction was required, particularly when Young Life built a $47 million RockRidge Canyon camp with a $7 million man-made lake near Princeton B.C.
Not only was McNicoll involved in building the camp and lake, he was active in building the charitable organization.
“In the first year I started with that organization, our budget was $4,000,” he recalled.
“When we finished, if you include camping, our budget in the last year was $10 million.”
McNicoll’s 30-year dedication to the organization was part of his desire to give back to the organization.
“I found it extremely satisfying to help kids,” he said, adding he was helped by Young Life as a child.
“My parents divorced when I was 12. My mom and I lived alone and when I was 16, she died,” he recalled.
“In a lot of ways, the Young Life community became my family and they were incredible in the way that they cared for me. So, that is what I did for 30 years, kind of return the favour.”
Transferring <0x000a>his skills
McNicoll brings 30 years’ experience with Young Life as well as his previous work with construction into his new role as executive director of the ECA.
He said chief among the skills he brings to the job is his experience working with boards in a broad regional sense and leadership.
“When you are working with large groups of people and you really want to get people involved and engaged, and want high levels of ownership, you want commitment and you want volunteerism – if you are a dictator you will find that you won’t find a lot of volunteers,” McNicoll said. “Learning to work with volunteers and engaging volunteers, and causing enthusiasm in volunteers is a unique skill set.”