How to Save Labor in Construction

Com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion is grap­pling with a sig­nif­i­cant short­age of skilled build­ing labor. The lack of skilled can­di­dates leads builders to pay high­er wages while forc­ing con­trac­tors to turn down work.

Con­trol­ling labor costs is, of course, a major con­cern for any kind of project, but the cost of con­struc­tion labor has become a par­tic­u­lar­ly press­ing issue. The U.S. work­force has shown increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty over the last sev­er­al decades, sur­pass­ing the increas­es seen in many oth­er coun­tries. This is excel­lent news for the nation, but look­ing at the actu­al data tells anoth­er sto­ry for builders.

Our impres­sive gains in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty per work­er just don’t show up in pro­duc­tion rates with­in the con­struc­tion indus­try. Accord­ing to reports from the Nation­al Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­o­gy (NIST), the orga­ni­za­tion charged with chart­ing this trend, the con­struc­tion indus­try lags behind the nation­al aver­age. Con­struc­tion con­tin­ues to be a major con­trib­u­tor to the U.S. econ­o­my, yet its pro­duc­tiv­i­ty remains a step below par.

To fix this prob­lem, con­struc­tion skills spe­cial­iza­tion has to bet­ter meet the needs of each project. The right mix of high- and low-skilled work­ers, along with more gran­u­lar atten­tion to sched­ul­ing, will give the great­est ben­e­fit at the best over­all cost.

Think of the way skill-match­ing and divi­sion of labor works in a den­tist’s office. If all the prep is done by the den­tal hygien­ists on the team, the den­tist can focus on the most spe­cial­ized work and, as a result, help more patients. It should be the same in any build­ing project: some employ­ees han­dle high­ly skilled tasks while oth­ers do sim­pler work. If you are aware of the train­ing and skill lev­els of each mem­ber of the con­struc­tion crew, you will be able to stream­line your oper­a­tions. The skilled work­ers will focus on dif­fi­cult tasks with­out hav­ing to spend their time doing more mun­dane jobs like prep and cleanup.

To save on labor costs, start by break­ing down the actu­al tasks to be done into three cat­e­gories:

  1. Actions nec­es­sary to all jobs
  2. Actions nec­es­sary in spe­cif­ic groups of jobs, such as those done by a roof­ing crew
  3. Actions nec­es­sary only for one spe­cif­ic spe­cial­ist, such as an elec­tri­cian

Depend­ing on the project, you would then group those actions to under­stand who can be rapid­ly trained to do them effec­tive­ly. As soon as you start to make your list, three to sev­en groups will emerge, depend­ing on the com­plex­i­ty of your project.

For a sim­ple room addi­tion, you might come up with this set of lists:

  1. Actions that require elec­tri­cal knowl­edge at any skill lev­el
  2. Skilled, non-elec­tri­cal actions, such as fram­ing
  3. Non-elec­tri­cal tasks that any helper could be instruct­ed to do (dig­ging and trash dis­pos­al are obvi­ous exam­ples, but the more thor­ough­ly you can extend this list, the more sav­ings you will find).

Once you have defined all of the tasks in this man­ner, the project fore­man and any oth­er labor super­vi­sors can start iden­ti­fy­ing which of them are required to fin­ish the project. Feed­back (or even ini­tial input) from the high­ly skilled labor­ers on the project is essen­tial for gaug­ing which tasks are best hand­ed off to new­com­ers.

Short-interval scheduling, or SIS, is a great method for achiev­ing agile work­place man­age­ment. Under SIS, the man­age­ment team fre­quent­ly assess­es the progress made toward dai­ly goals in order to pin­point poten­tial prob­lems, take cor­rec­tive mea­sures and con­tin­u­al­ly increase pro­duc­tiv­i­ty (Moore and Daneshgari’s ground­break­ing arti­cle, The Secrets to Short-Inter­val Sched­ul­ing, pro­vides detailed infor­ma­tion on tak­ing this step).

At this point, every­body is work­ing togeth­er to max­i­mize the effec­tive­ness of your most skilled team mem­bers. They also share the objec­tive of increas­ing effi­cien­cy and help­ing the less expe­ri­enced mem­bers of the work­force com­plete sup­port­ing tasks.

All this plan­ning to match tasks with skills will deliv­er sav­ings and help address the short­age of skilled labor.

Once you have max­i­mized the effec­tive­ness of your skilled work­ers, the next step to sav­ing on labor costs is to make care­ful deci­sions about design and mate­ri­als.

Labor saving wall system

Designed for one- to three-sto­ry build­ings, the inno­v­a­tive Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem offers a new type of labor-sav­ing wall sys­tem that replaces wood or met­al framed con­struc­tion and even con­crete con­struc­tion meth­ods. Its ease of assem­bly will cut down on labor costs. Not only does this give you an oppor­tu­ni­ty to assign appro­pri­ate work to employ­ees with less con­struc­tion expe­ri­ence, it also reduces the num­ber of employ­ees you need for your con­struc­tion project.

The weight of the Bau­tex Wall System’s con­crete mate­r­i­al, the built-in insu­lat­ing qual­i­ty of the wall and the self-anchor­ing stay-in-place sys­tem all cut down on instal­la­tion time. And it pro­vides that ease with­out sac­ri­fic­ing qual­i­ty — archi­tects and builders alike find the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem stronger than tra­di­tion­al con­struc­tion mate­ri­als.

To learn more about the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem click here.