CFL Alumni Robert Bronk assumes top OCS position

by Don Wall

The new CEO of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) Robert Bronk comes to the job with five years of experience as a stakeholder in the organization and says he knows full well its strengths, the value of programs it runs and its respected portfolio of research studies.
Robert Bronk
Robert Bronk

But there are flaws he has identified as well. As he consults with board members and ramps up to full speed after his Oct. 2 start on the job, he is already making plans to upgrade and modernize some OCS practices including communications.

The Winnipeg-born Bronk, a civil engineering grad from Queen’s University and University of Toronto MBA recipient, is a former Canadian Football League running back and most recently served as executive director of the Ontario Industrial and Finishing Skills Centre (OIFSC). In that position he was responsible for the delivery of health and safety training for members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 46 and the training of several other related trades.

The 57-year-old takes over the top job from Sean Strickland, who was lauded by industry stakeholders when he announced he was moving into the private sector.

“Obviously the broad goals of the OCS are not going to change,” said Bronk.

“But I think we need to get the message out in more modern way. Social media is taking off like crazy. Possibly our online presence is pretty dated. We need to promote who we are and what we do in, for lack of a better term, a more youthful way

“We have to take advantage of the tools out there right now. Things that have been done one way for years need to change.”

The OCS was created in 1993 with the goal of supporting Ontario’s unionized industrial, commercial and institutional construction (ICI) sector.

It’s got representation from labour and management with mandates to, among other goals, undertake research, disseminate information and promote the unionized ICI construction, its mission statement indicates.

Part of the problem in getting the word out, said Bronk, is who tends to rise to the top ranks within unions and contractor associations.

“We don’t tell our story well,” he said. “There are so many people in the trades, journeymen, their expertise is in that area and marketing is a specialized field, especially these days, and most of the contractor associations and unions do not have people who get that message out in a positive, modern way. I think that has really got to change.”

As an example of modernizing communications, Bronk noted he started on the job with the OCS late so he could wrap up a new branding project with the OIFSC. One of his final acts in his old job was to unveil a new name, the Finishing Trades Institute of Ontario, a new logo and other brand upgrades.

Two cornerstone programs for the OCS are its State of the Industry and Outlook Conference and Future Building. Bronk already attended Future Building events as a stakeholder with the OIFSC and says he supports its programs to recruit young people. It currently focuses on high school students and Bronk says there is another group recruiters should also target – post high schoolers aged 18 to 21 who haven’t made a career choice.

“They’re sort of in limbo, not sure what they want to do,” he said.

“That is a big group I want to target going forward.”

As for OCS research, Bronk also knows first-hand how useful that is to the sector.

“The information is very valuable,” he said.

“In a previous position, I had to write MAESD (the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development) and you had to justify why you were asking for money and I would use OCS’s information to validate what I was asking for, and I know other training centres did as well.”

Bronk played five seasons for the CFL’s Toronto Argos, earning distinction as a CFL all-star in 1985. Bronk says the experience has informed his post playing career.

“You have 40 or 50 players, you are not going to get along with everybody, guaranteed,” he said.

“But at end of day, everyone wants to win. So one of big things I learned playing team sports was, yes, you are not going to like every person, but you have to learn how to work with someone you don’t like.

“You have the same goal, you have to learn how to give and take. Dealing with boards I take that same approach.”


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