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.