How Pomerleau is rethinking construction relying on its people and innovation
“Why try to earn a spot in a field that already exists? It’s much better to be on the cutting edge and create the field.” More than half a century since he established the construction business that bears its name in St-Georges de Beauce, Quebec, Hervé Pomerleau’s mantra has proved successful. With a coast-to-coast presence across Canada, Pomerleau offers a host of construction services encompassing infrastructure, design-build, lean and modular approaches, P3 partnerships and more.
“We have strong partnerships across the country enabling us to be a one-stop shop for our clients and assist those who want to be more involved on an open book basis,” explains Eric Gaulin, Pomerleau’s Executive Vice President, Canadian Building Operations (CBO). “The sooner we’re involved, the greater value we can bring. We can engage partners from across our network to achieve a common goal from planning, to design and construction”
Gaulin believes Pomerleau’s entrepreneurial spirit, combined with the inclusive culture of a family-owned business, has created a solid platform to innovate and achieve success. “We want our people to learn from their mistakes while ensuring they are taking the initiative to become better people and employees,” he says. Pomerleau is taking the initiative to support them through its Foundation for Operational Excellence (FOX); created to keep the company agile, while future-proofing its business model. FOX helps create and maintain synergies, to standardise practices and push boundaries. And most importantly, it is employee driven and taps into the creativity of every member of the Pomerleau family. “FOX allows us to share initiatives across the company from a central point and is the vehicle that guides our own transformation and helps us in turn transform the construction industry,” confirms Gaulin.
Gaulin highlights the successful launch of cloud-based platform Procore across the country, as an example of how FOX has enabled Pomerleau to adapt to ultimately provide more value for its clients. “Due to ongoing labour shortages, it’s becoming more important. FOX is supporting champions for this in each of our offices to draw on best practices from around the world and enhance our day to day operations. It helps us deliver better and faster.”
‘The Pomerleau Way’ delivers best practice through collaboration, says Gaulin. “Our job is not just to create the concrete and physical foundations, to pour concrete, build roads or put together steel structures. It’s to help build communities; we are building the future.”
And in order to build the future, Pomerleau relies on two things: the excellence of its people and innovation. That commitment was recognised for the second consecutive year in 2019 with a CanBIM Innovation Spotlight Awards for Pomerleau’s work on the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre in Fort McMurray. “We strive to implement digital technology processes and methodology in our day to day operations from project conception, to delivery and beyond,” assures Gaulin who is keen to see innovation become the norm on job sites. “Leveraging technology helps us to reduce costs, avoid delays onsite and, more importantly, frees up our people to do what they do best: give expert advice that’s a value add for our clients.” At Pomerleau, technology is not an end onto itself, but rather a means to empower the team to provide advice and create added value for the clients.
Lieu Dao, Innovation Manager, R&D and Special Projects at Pomerleau, and the Innovation Team is helping leverage the potential of technologies like BIM across the company’s construction, maintenance and management services. “The BIM process is being used throughout a project’s lifecycle, from planning, design, and preconstruction to operation & maintenance, retrofits, expansion and even at times, deconstruction,” she explains. “BIM has also allowed Pomerleau to produce a Digital Twin - a virtual version of a -job site. Using BIM helps us accelerate the integration of other technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. Integrating technology on our sites allows us to monitor progress for a higher productivity, to optimise scheduling, to get accurate data useful for operations and maintenance and more. Ultimately, using technology helps us deliver higher quality and better value for our clients.”
Gaulin’s CBO team is one of three operations teams at Pomerleau which also include Quebec Building Operations (QBO) and Civil Infrastructure. CBO is making a significant contribution to the ongoing success of the business and is forecasted to deliver 28% of Pomerleau’s revenue in 2020. “Our goal within the next three years is to deliver a third of that revenue through CBO,” adds Gaulin. “We are seeing a lot of momentum in our Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, and Calgary offices and are extremely proud of getting a first CBO project in British-Columbia in 2019 with the South Burnaby Arena.”
CBO’s expansion, alongside the work of Pomerleau’s other divisions, contributes to its overall success. “In two years in Atlantic Canada we transformed our business from being 100% lump sum contractors to now being 80% design build projects,” explains Gaulin. “In 2018 we also won our first P3 (public-private partnership) project outside of Quebec in Newfoundland for the Gander and Grand Falls long-term care facility; a big win for us. In Ottawa, we delivered the Science & Technology Museum with their new storage building, which altogether was a $200mn project.” Set to double Pomerleau’s revenue in Toronto via forthcoming high-rise and key projects, CBO is also making headways in Ottawa, as well as in Western and Atlantic Canada. In fact, Gaulin’s team won its first building project in British Colombia in 2019, the East Burnaby Arena ice sports complex.
Gaulin recognises the need for Pomerleau to stay focused on executing projects like these in 2020 while increasing the company’s use of technology and innovative solutions to build better. “We are furthering the BIM process, coordination and progress analysis with artificial intelligence on building & civil project and for facility management. It will allow us to automate time-consuming tasks and optimise time and resource allocation,” confirms Dao, who is keen for Pomerleau to keep pushing the envelope and lead by example as the Canadian construction industry undergoes an important digitalisation process. “Using coordinated 3D models is the key for efficient prefabrication planning and off-site construction. Using robots, autonomous drones and scans to monitor site progress and quality assurance.”
Gaulin notes a significant trend: that the projects Pomerleau is taking on are getting larger and more complex, with operational responsibility being transferred to the company from its clients. “It can make a project even more challenging when we’re trying to deliver in the fastest way possible,” he says. “The labour shortage adds another layer of complexity and is really forcing us to innovate the way we approach construction. In summary, all our projects are mainly like a prototype; there are no two buildings that are the same and we don't want our clients to waste time and money by making mistakes on these prototypes. That’s why we need innovation. We have tools that allow us to build virtually to help us anticipate problems and minimize delays. With the experience of having put the project together virtually before even stepping on site, we have already reasoned through potential challenges and have a multitude of solutions in our back pocket.”
Technology also plays a key role in how the company recruits, trains and retains staff. “We are increasing the support to our people by giving them the right training, mentoring and leadership,” says Gaulin. “In order to leverage technology for our clients we are investing in face to face interaction more than anyone else in the industry, because our people have always been the key to our success. We are a people business undergoing an important internal transformation to future-proof our strategy. At the heart of Pomerleau is a spirit of entrepreneurship, which we want every employee to take part in through initiatives like FOX and PX3 so that everyone in our business can bring forth an idea that will help us maintain and even surpass our high standards.”
PX3, Pomerleau’s new on boarding and training program, launched last August. It offers an ecosystem of initiatives to support excellence by focusing on three core principles: Pomerleau’s unique corporate culture, positive leadership and exceptional strategy. It delivers personalised support for job integration and personal growth. Pomerleau’s people first approach is one of the many reasons why Gaulin believes the future is bright for Pomerleau. “We are not just keeping up with the pace of change that we see in our industry, we are thinking 10-15 years ahead, leveraging innovation, and investing in our people like we’ve done all along for 53 years.”