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Changing the face of construction in Manitoba: Engineering and Construction grad builds on family legacy

February 8, 2021

Almost anywhere Nick Bockstael goes in Winnipeg, he can see the tangible results of his work.

Bockstael, 37, is the Vice-President of Construction for Bockstael Construction Ltd., and part of the fourth generation to lead the family business founded more than 108 years ago by his paternal great-grandfather, Theodore. (His father, John, is the CEO, and his brother, Dan, is the Vice-President of Preconstruction. His sister, Sarah Anderson, joined the company in 2020.)

The list of Bockstael’s recent accomplishments in the city includes the “urban chic” 21-storey Glasshouse Skylofts at Portage and Hargrave, the 62,000-sq.-ft. Richardson Innovation Centre on Westbrook, and the concrete core for the 42-storey residential apartments currently going up at 300 Main St.

Bockstael graduated from Red River College in 2006 with a diploma in Structural Engineering Technology. He acknowledges there was some recognition of his last name, well-known in the industry, among his peers.

“Some of my instructors were active in the design and construction community at the time. They knew my dad and uncles and would ask me about them,” he recalls.

Armed with the technical foundation provided by the diploma program, Bockstael went on to earn his engineering degree at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, after which he worked for a few years as a structural designer at Stantec.

“Most of the work that I did there was derived from the knowledge that I picked up at Red River College,” he says. “For me, the Structural Engineering Technology program really helped with the technical side of things.”

“Today when we have challenges on jobs, or we need to look at a temporary engineering solution to accommodate construction, I do still rely on what I learned at Red River College.”

Returning to the family fold in 2011, he joined Bockstael Construction as a project manager. He was subsequently promoted to the Vice-President of Construction and became a partner in the company in 2016.

As head of the company’s Project Delivery Group, Bockstael has around 20 project managers, project coordinators, and other field managers who report directly to him. He oversees staffing, risk management and overall management for a workforce of about 120.

Bockstael’s Project Delivery Group is working on “25 or so” building projects at any given time, and the jobs keep being awarded. As he sees it, the future is bright for Manitoba workers in the design and construction industry because there is stability here.

“Manitoba has always been a province that has generally grown slowly but steadily, and that’s a good economic environment for our business. In other parts of the world there can be a lot of volatility in construction, in boom or bust economies.”

“On the management side of things, it’s bright because our industry is evolving very quickly. So, there are lots of things to keep up with, lots of opportunities and challenges — especially in design and construction technology.”

Bockstael personally had a hand in developing and implementing a framework for project delivery, now called the Bockstael Operating System.

“‘To change the face of construction’ is our motto. Part of how we do that is to have a different way of operating. Our system integrates a few things: one being a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, second being the use of professional project management methods, and the third element is a focus on collaboration, facilitated by lean construction,” he explains.

“For us, that means being a positive influence on the greater construction community. We want it to be open, transparent, collaborative and a good experience for our clients, consultants, suppliers and the tradespeople who are working out there.”

As a Manitoba employer, Bockstael Construction encourages its staff to continue their educations as part of its culture.

“My own view is that your education never stops and never should stop. Whether it’s a seminar or a night course, we have several staff in professional roles who are always doing that, myself included, my dad included, and our other executive members. If you are not doing that, I believe you’re going to get passed pretty quickly.”

Bockstael considers himself lucky to be able to add to his family’s legacy.

“It’s nice working for a company that has so much history and has a good reputation in the province. It’s nice that we’re not publicly traded, so we’re not driven by quarterly profits and reports to shareholders. Rather, we can take a longer-term view on the world of business. There’s a level of comfort and trust among us that you might not get in a big corporation.”

“There was succession planning laid out to us, in terms of things we had to do if we wanted to join the family business, and one of those was getting a post-secondary education. So, Red River College was part of that for me.”

Profile by Nigel Moore (Creative Communications, 1998)

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