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.