Off the Bench – 5 Questions for Grey Cup champion and Ontario Construction Secretariat CEO, Bob Bronk

Off the Bench – 5 Questions for Grey Cup champion and Ontario Construction Secretariat CEO, Bob Bronk


Bob Bronk helped engineer drives as a full-back in the CFL after studying the profession as a student athlete at Queen’s University. In a five-season career with the Toronto Argonauts (1982-86), Bronk won a championship in 1983 and was named an All-Star in 1985. In the years that followed, he moved from the gridiron to the executive arena. 

His past roles include Executive Director of the Sign Association of Canada and Ontario Industrial & Finishing Skills Centre (now named the Finishing Trades Institute). Since Oct. 2017, he has been the CEO of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS). Headquartered in Toronto, the OCS acts as “a joint labour-management organization formed in 1993 to represent the collective needs of the unionized construction industry in the ICI (Industrial, Commercial and Institutional) sector.”

In a nutshell, their mandate is to provide neutral unbiased data driven research to help facilitate good-faith negotiations between labour and management.

According to their website, they represent 100,000 union members and 5,000 union contractors and their stakeholders include twenty-five unionized trades and their contractor partners.

Bronk spoke with Bridgit about a rewarding career path which began with an Iron Ring and earned him a Grey Cup Ring along the way.

Bridgit: It appears that you wanted to combine football with engineering, how did that ultimately lead to attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario?

Bob Bronk: I was at the University of Manitoba (Bisons) for two years and frankly, back in those days, no one left Manitoba or Western Canada, either you stayed in Winnipeg or went to the US on a scholarship. I had never even heard of Queen’s.

In Manitoba, we didn’t have Grade 13, so I was 17-years-old in my first year of university and the two running backs with the Bisons were conference all-stars, so I wasn’t going to get much playing time.

I decided to play junior football for two years, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant general manager Paul Robson asked if I wanted to get a scholarship and he had looked at a bunch of (American) colleges. I wanted to take engineering, but a number of people I spoke with said, “Sorry son, you can’t play football and take engineering in the States.” (laughs).

Robson said Queen’s had a great engineering program and a great football program, so he talked to Doug Hargreaves who was the coach and I got an invitation (and transferred).

Bridgit: You were coached by two prominent people in football, Doug Hargreaves at Queen’s and Bob O’Billovich with the Toronto Argonauts, was there a commonality between them that you were able to absorb and utilize in running an organization like the OCS.

BB: I didn’t realize it at the time, but both coaches hired really good people. Obie hired really good assistants and the same with Doug. Having a great team is really important, I have an amazing group of people here at OCS, it’s so important. You hire people and get out of the way and let them do their job. That’s similar to what their coaching styles were – hire good people and let them do what they do.

Bridgit: Technology has disrupted industry, how has it affected the fields that fall under the OCS umbrella.

BB: I wouldn’t say it’s disruptive, it just becomes another tool. You can do more work with fewer people but that means contractors are actually doing more business. Virtual reality is being incorporated in a lot of places, in Western Canada, IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) can use cameras to get the whole job site down and then train people using VR to learn where the hazards are so when they actually go to the job site, there has already been some orientation with respect to what the place looks like.

Drones can be used for inspections which make things safer, you still have to have someone operating them.

There is also a device that walks through a job site every day that digitizes everything and measures progress, so it’s not big brother checking on the workers, it’s helping project management. For example, you can’t have the painters come in until the drywallers are finished, for some reason if there has been a glitch and progress has been slower, or even faster, you can get a digitized progress report and call in the painters a week earlier or say you have to go to Floor 7 instead of Floor 8. It’s actually helping planning and making things more efficient, I wouldn’t say it’s disruptive.

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Bridgit: When you took the role of CEO in Oct. 2017, you stated your mandate was to modernize communication and attract younger people to trades, how successful have you been?

BB: We are still working on it. (Ontario Minister of Labour) Monte McNaughton has initiated a campaign to try and reduce the negative stigma that’s been associated with construction and trades jobs. We are working with the provincial government to try and do that.

It’s an ongoing process. We are looking at strategies on how to recruit new immigrants, where there can be a negative stigma with construction depending on where they come from.

Everybody knows what a carpenter, painter, electrician and a plumber does. What does a glassier, millwright or boilermaker do? How do you google a trade you don’t even know exists? Some of these trades are so high tech that you have to have Grade 12 physics, advanced math. It’s the same credentials you need to get into university, and you are using equipment that is thousands of dollars.

You are refurbishing high tech reactors in Pickering, please don’t tell me that’s not a high tech job, that’s what boilermakers and millwrights are doing. A crane operator makes over $100,000 a year with health and welfare benefits. There’s 24 trades give or take, most people aren’t aware of them all, the possibilities and the career path.

You don’t need to be on a job site with a hammer and drill for 40 years, you can take courses and become a supervisor, you can get your certificate of qualification and become a tradesperson etc. There are different career paths.

Bridgit: You are in a unique position in that you have an Iron Ring and a Grey Cup ring, how does that make you feel? Do you ever wear them at the same time?

BB: Yes, but not on the same hand, I don’t want the iron to dig into the gold (laughs). They are both special, even though the Iron Ring is only about $25, a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into getting that.

Lauren Lake

Lauren Lake is the COO and co-founder at Bridgit. She holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering and is well-versed in construction workforce management and resource planning processes. Lauren has been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes Under 30 Innovators lists. Lauren has presented at industry events and conferences, including BuiltWorlds, Canadian Construction Association, Procore Groundbreak, and more.

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