Several construction associations are coming together to bring ethics to the boardroom from the classroom.
A new ethics course, developed by BuildForce Canada, is a mandatory component of the Canadian Construction Association's (CCA) Gold Seal certification program and is being taught in Vancouver by BGC Partners Inc. president Tim Williams.
The Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) is providing courses to members through both online and in-class learning modules.
The essence of the in-class course, Williams said, is "going through copious amounts of challenging case studies. The feeling of the industry is that they want ethical lines in the sand."
"With the in-class course taking people through case studies, they'll really think about it. We wanted a larger lens than 'it's always been done that way,'" CCA president Michael Atkinson added.
"There are grey areas, but having faced self-examination (in the course) means you've gone through it."
He also stressed the need for a visible set of ethical standards for the construction industry.
"We wanted to find a way to partly change the image of construction, after inquiries like the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec," Atkinson said.
"A more ethical approach to business practices was seen as an important part of leadership training."
BuildForce Canada is comprised of owners, contractors, labour organizations and industry associations as well as online training. When combined with CCA's Gold Seal training for managers, "it seemed natural to make it a mandatory course," Atkinson said.
Williams echoes his comments.
"The CCA is being proactive. It's not coming out of a large problem, but like any industry, it's good to be self-policing," Williams said, adding companies and individuals in the industry will often maintain ethical standards by simply not dealing with those who do not hold to the same standard.
"It's really the golden rule; do unto others as they would do unto you. People, when challenged, will generally be good."
Atkinson pointed out that there is often a tendency to confuse ethics with legal matters.
"It's more than just not running afoul of the Competition Bureau," Atkinson said.
Companies also often have a formal or informal "whistleblower" mechanism in place to deal with bad behaviour, Williams explained.
Problem areas in the industry can include bidding, where "on day one, a company is under pressure to be efficient and effective and companies can take shortcuts to that efficiency," Williams said.
The push towards an improved safety culture over the past years has resulted in real progress, Williams added, and "we're bringing discussion about ethical conduct in a similar way that developed with safety culture."
The Construction Industry Ethics course takes place on Sept. 6 at the VRCA offices in Vancouver. Those interested in attending the one-day course must first complete an online ethics course.