By Alicia K. Gosselin
A “hidden job opportunity” for architectural technology students was highlighted by an Algonquin architectural technology graduate on Feb. 19 during an information session hosted at the college.
“There is a massive void in the construction industry when it comes to specification writers,” said Chris Lance, an architect with GRC Architects and a member of Construction Specifications Canada (CSC).
He introduced “specification writing” as an alternative employment option for Algonquin students with a passion for design and construction.
His presentation focused on a certification program offered within the CSC – principles of construction documentation – which trains specification writers in Canada.
Although eight people were registered to attend the workshop, only two people showed up. Neither were Algonquin students.
Lance continued the meeting undeterred, seemingly used to the lack of numbers.
“It is a viable and lucrative career that is too often overlooked,” he said.
A construction specification, also known as a “spec,” is a technical document required to complete any architectural design. It outlines all the details: building measurements and materials, quality and quantity of materials, costs of equipment, and legal assertions.
According to Lance, a contractor needs to be able to look at a spec and know exactly how to carry out the project successfully.
“Graduates are opting for more traditional architectural jobs, like architectural drawing, and missing out on the opportunities within spec-writing,” said Lance.
The lack of trained specification writers in Ottawa is having a major impact on architecture and design companies.
Lance owned a construction specification writing firm for almost four years, Construction Administration and Specification Consulting, but had to shut down in 2012 because the demand was so overwhelming. He couldn’t find trained specification writers to hire – the business was booming, but he couldn’t keep up.
Lance was involved with the groundwork for several Algonquin building projects, such as the ACCE building, the Student Commons building and the Pembroke campus. The last two years of his business, he was working 100-hour work weeks.
“I was a victim of my own success, really,” he chuckled.
The intense pressure put on a specification writer is one of the reasons the industry is lacking.
A construction document leaves little room for error; according to Lance, one correction to a document could cost the firm up to $250,000. Senior architects are often keeping junior architects from getting involved with a spec because of the possible implications of inaccuracies.
Another factor contributing to the void, according to Lance, is the lack of exposure that students are getting to specification training.
“I host a guest lecture every year in an architectural technology class here at Algonquin, and that’s really the only material the students get,” he said.
Chris Hewett, architectural technology professor, confirmed that the students learn some of what specifications are about, but do not go in depth.
“The students only learn the theory of what a spec is,” said Hewett. “I have a huge respect for spec-writers – it’s a special niche, almost like an art form.”
Lance organized the meeting in conjunction with the Connections Café construction conference held at the college the same evening. The conference hosted three major developers within the Ottawa area, including Bernie Ash, who is the frontrunner in the Lansdowne park project.
The event was intended as an education and networking opportunity for architectural technology students at the college.