Americans Invited North

Don Procter

May 2007

This fall Toronto will become home to a drywall estimating program offered to Canadians and Americans.

Spearheaded by the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario, the ambitious endeavor makes good sense to organizers who say few estimators in North America have access to any in-class training specific to the drywall trade.

Calling the school The ISCA Training Institute for Drywall Estimators, the first edition of the two-week course will start in September. Twenty students will cover the ins and outs of commercial and residential take-offs.

Hugh Laird, ISCA’s executive director, says his association has offered a drywall estimating program to its member contractors through George Brown College (a Toronto-based community college) for eight years. It may be the only course in Canada or the United States specific to drywall estimating. While many an estimator has learned the ropes through the program, declining enrolment has organizers worried that the axe will fall if interest doesn’t pick up.

By opening up the new school, organizers hope to keep the program running. But, more importantly, the objective is to move to standardize the estimating process throughout North America, points out Laird. In this day and age, many drywall contractors work well beyond their home ground so standardizing the process of take-offs makes sense.

Costing jobs can be especially complicated these days because many building designs are complex, requiring much more than a few simple calculations of material requirements. Inexperienced estimators can easily underprice jobs, creating headaches for their company. When underpricing happens a lot, prime contractors come to expect lower prices. That makes it tough on the industry as a whole, points out Clint Kissoon, drywall estimating instructor at George Brown College.

Kissoon believes that the new program should do well in Canada and the United States. General estimating courses abound, but ones geared specifically to drywall are unheard of outside Toronto.

Why? "If you look at the big picture, drywall is still a fairly new industry. Plaster was the standard until drywall started coming into use in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” points out Laird. Some countries (in Asia and the Middle East, for example) are just discovering drywall as an efficient and inexpensive alternative to plaster. "It’s just starting to explode on the world market,” he says.

Laird says the response so far to the course from various drywall associations including the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, has been "great. They’re hot on it.”

He adds that if interest proves strong on the international front, ISCA and its partners might consider sending an instructor overseas to help local associations and groups set up their own estimating programs.

The two-week course will be taught at ISCA’s new $5.5 million Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre, which opened last year in suburban Toronto. It will be broken down into equal segments of residential and commercial estimating. Tuition will be $1,200–$1,500 for out-of-province and American students; Ontarians will pay $500. The first course is set to roll this September.

ISCA has set its sights on putting four classes out in 2007. How many additional courses are offered in 2008 will depend on the industry’s response.

The drywall association will invest $40,000 to market the program in the first year through brochures, ads in trade magazines and a Web site. "It’s the only real risk we face,” Laird says. "You know what they say: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We’re building it and hopefully they will come. If not, I may have to take early retirement,” he quips.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.