Twitter bird logo

Working with your hands: it takes skill, intelligence, patience, and a pride in what you're doing. But in North America today, some of our policies and structures assume that getting your hands dirty is second-class work. The Building Meaning Project will reframe our understanding of the trades and make the connection between the dignity of working with one's hands, good jobs, and a healthy Canadian economy.

At our recent Canada's New Industrial Revolution conference, industry stakeholders noted that social bias against the trades negatively affects our ability to develop a sustainable trades workforce. Bias is a barrier. And, compounding the problem, significant numbers of apprentices don't complete their training. So what can we do about it?

In partnership with leading construction associations and labour organizations, Cardus presents the Building Meaning Project. This project will consist of:

  • A series of nationwide interviews with industry and government leaders
  • Regional roundtables for policy development
  • Media connections and coordinated efforts to change narratives and influence opinions
  • A strategic, cross-country "Beating the Bias" trades promotion plan


  • October 27, 2014 - Calgary, Alberta
  • October 29, 2014 - Vancouver, British Columbia
  • November 7, 2014 - Toronto, Ontario
  • November 20, 2014 - Ottawa, Ontario

Sponsorship Opportunities Available

Position your company at the forefront of the Building Meaning movement: sponsor our National Keynote or our National "Beating the Bias" plan. Full details available by contacting Brian Dijkema.

Research proviso: In order to ensure the integrity of our research process, brand recognition will not be given on research portions of this project. For clarity, no brand recognition will be given in interviews, the discussion paper arising from said interviews, the round tables, or the final report. This research is being supported by our partners: Employment and Social Development Canada, the Canadian Building Trades, CLAC, NCLRA, and PCA.

Download the full Building Meaning brochure (five pages) here.

Media Inquiries

For interviews and footage, contact Naomi Biesheuvel, 905.528.8866 x31.

Why Cardus?

At Cardus, we understand that people are made to work. We are made to make things, to use both our minds and our hands to create. If we believe that certain types of work should be deemed second-rate—and if we create political, economic, and social structures to mirror that belief—we are demeaning ourselves, and doing harm to our society. Cardus has studied the intersection of work and economics since 2000.

Latest Research in Work and Economics

It makes sense that most of our public debate about infrastructure spending focuses on revenue. But too heavy a focus on revenue can lead us to neglect sound public policy focused on cost containment.

This paper is intended as a reminder and a spur. A reminder of the practices and data that allow governments to invest responsibly and in the public interest. And a spur to government, industry, labour, and others to consider that fair, open, and competitive tendering lightens that burden on this generation and the next.

Download Restrictive Tendering: Protection For Whom?

Toronto rightly calls itself the economic engine of Ontario. But Toronto's performance is hampered by legislation which prevents it from getting the best value for its construction projects. Why? One of the reasons can be found in a 2008 Toronto city staff report which studied the cost implications of closed-tendering in Toronto. This paper reviews that staff report and finds significant methodological problems with it that lead to faulty conclusions.

Download Tuning Up Ontario's Economic Engine

"If this doesn't work out for you, you can always pick up a trade." This short, seemingly encouraging epithet, encapsulates the Building Meaning Project. A social bias against employment in the skilled trades exists in this country. This document includes the Building Meaning in the Skilled Trades background paper, and the final series of recommendations for industry and labour stakeholders; educational institutions; governments; and researchers.

Download The Building Meaning Project Paper and Recommendations

Canada is in the midst of a new industrial revolution which is changing the face of our economy. Resources—long lamented as the means by which Canadians served other, more developed countries—have instead held Canada steady through a global economic crisis and maintained an industrial core.
Download Signs of the Times

This policy paper presents the case for a new framework of understanding labour relations in Canada. Taking insights which move debates about labour beyond the pendulum of pro-union and anti-union policies, it proposes a new policy within a new framework.
Download Competition and Cooperation

Canada's economy is increasingly reliant on construction: what is fuelling this, and what challenges and opportunities does this pose for Canadian policy makers?
Read Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water?

Expanding on the findings made in Working Mobile, Ray Pennings further illuminates the labour situation in Canada's construction Industry by surveying local workers.
Download Working Local

A comprehensive investigative research report that gives the construction industry a better understanding of the various factors relating to worker mobility in the large industrial and civil engineering sectors of the industry. Using a survey of mobile workers, the study analyzes results, and offers recommendations based on the survey findings.
Download Working Mobile

Latest in Work and Economics

Dec 8, 2016 - Cardus News
Protecting the Vulnerable from the Payday Loan Holiday Debt Trap
39% of Canadians intend to spend more money this year than last on Christmas gifts and other holiday...
Oct 28, 2015 - Comment (Feature Essay)
Building Better Markets for the Poor
You can be part of a Cardus initiative to reform payday lending....
Jul 28, 2015 - Cardus News
Brian Dijkema in Toronto Star: Solutions for public housing
Work and Economics program director explains how closed tendering eats up meager resources...
Jul 28, 2015 - Columns & Opinions
Making Public Housing Dollars Go Further
Toronto Public Housing should be searching the cupboards for ways to make the most of the limited mo...