CISC Turns Up the Volume in Manitoba

The Canadian Institute of Steel Construction is increasing its presence in the province

By Jim Timlick

The Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC) has been the voice for Canada’s steel construction industry for more than 80 years, but only recently has that volume been turned up here in Manitoba.

CISC was founded in 1930 and serves as the steel construction industry’s leading advocate when it comes to promoting dialogue, collaboration and business between industry stakeholders. While it has long maintained a strong presence in larger provinces like Québec, Ontario and Alberta, smaller provinces such as Manitoba often felt left out.

That all changed about seven years ago when the organization and its leadership began a concerted effort to bring Manitoba – along with Saskatchewan and the Maritimes – into the mix, says Gordie Tumilson, the CISC regional rep for Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

“There was no voice for those areas and we wanted to fix that void,” said Tumilson. “It was a reasonable thing to do with regards to the local fabricators in those areas. There were no services being provided by us. The organization wanted to do the right thing by [having more representation] and show more interest in the region.”

The first step CISC took to address the issue in Manitoba was to hire Tumilson, who had recently retired following a more than 30-year career in the steel fabrication industry. He serves as an intermediary between CISC and industry members in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario and has been the association’s chief recruiter in the region.

Surge in interest

Although CISC membership in Manitoba has remained relatively static during the past seven years in terms of full members – including fabricators such as Abesco Ltd., Behlen Industries LP and Capitol Steel Corp. – it has enjoyed a huge increase in associate memberships. Those associate members include everyone from engineers, architects and educators to suppliers, developers and students.

“We spend a whole lot of our time working on that area now and having people join us as associate members. Our total membership is now probably around 140 members,” said Tumilson. “There are a gazillion opportunities for associate members…whether it’s engineering houses, architects, suppliers. We’re very close now to the universities and Red River College, and Assiniboine College in Brandon, too.”

Advocacy role

Recruiting new members has hardly been the sole focus of CISC in Manitoba. The association has been working with several other organizations to help push for prompt payment legislation in the province. Bill 218, the Prompt Payments in the Construction Industry Act, passed a second reading in the Manitoba Legislature in April following a unanimous vote by all three parties and could go to the third and final reading in June. Similar legislation has already been passed in Ontario.

The legislation could have a huge impact on CISC and its members, says Tumilson.

“It’s kind of a domino effect. Once one guy gets paid, everybody gets paid. The money flows and it’s our economy that will benefit. At times, there has been $40 billion tied up by six to 10 companies in Canada,” he said.

CISC has also been working closely with the Ministry of Sustainable Development in Manitoba to promote recycling and what the steel industry can do to encourage that. It’s also been a leading proponent of encouraging the government in this province to adopt fairer procurement practices that will allow local industries to enjoy some of the benefits of major construction projects.

Nationally, CISC has been a major player in efforts to crack down on countries like China, Korea and Spain dumping their steel and aluminium in foreign markets like Canada at unfairly cheap prices. In 2017, the organization won an anti-dumping case on fabricated industrial steel components when the Canadian International Trade Tribunal ruled those three nations had engaged in unfair trade practices. It’s also been a leading proponent for public safety with initiatives such as the CISC Quality Certification program for bridges.

Although those efforts are important, Tumilson says the real value of CISC membership is the networking opportunities it provides to people and businesses involved in the steel construction industry.

Share and share alike

Members also have the opportunity to share information on what’s happening in the industry at CISC-sponsored events such as its annual Steel Design Awards gala and lunch-and-learn education sessions.

“There are all kinds of new things happening within the industry, from running the shops to education and software. If you’re not in touch with the industry, you’re probably going to miss out somewhere. Our guys work really closely together – even though they’re competitors – to see that the industry is strong and there’s a good livelihood for people,” said Tumilson. “You get to meet people close at hand rather than at arm’s length. Because of that, we’re sometimes able to help them make decisions and help their customers make decisions on building structures and those kinds of things and we can help them to save money. Ultimately, we save almost everybody money when they come to us in advance of a project because our guys have been around forever and they know the ins and outs here in Manitoba.”

That spirit of cooperation extends to working with other industry organizations, including the Construction Association of Rural Manitoba (CARM). CISC has worked closely with CARM to ensure its members are able to stay in touch with what’s happening outside of Winnipeg.

“It really helps us to stay in touch with the rest of the province and it gives the rest of the province a chance to look at what a certified builder would do. Sometimes guys who build things…won’t have a great presence, but sometimes they’ll do the best work,” said Tumilson, adding that being part of CARM helps those companies raise their profile in areas where they might not be known.

And while CISC’s presence continues to grow in Manitoba, Tumilson stresses it still has a lot more work to do in that regard as it looks to increase membership in the province.

“We’re open for business for [anyone who] is interested. We have a membership category that fits everybody. As we grow, we’re encouraging people who might not normally think of getting involved that if they want to stay in touch with the times, we’re the place to be.”

Photos courtesy of the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction