Construction Labor Shortage: Maintaining Productivity

It’s certainly no surprise that construction remains one of the largest industries in the world’s economy. And it only continues to grow.

And as with any other growing sector, it encounters challenges such as competition, budget overruns, delivery interruptions, bad forecasting, cash flow, construction site technology and more.

However, one of the more demanding challenges lately has been a shortage of skilled labor and how it affects overall productivity.

As we are aware, with fewer new candidates seeking employment in the construction industry and ever-growing requirements for construction projects, finding skilled workers has become more and more demanding.

But don’t panic. The silver lining is there are ways you can do more with less and boost productivity on your projects. In this blog, we will look at key strategies for navigating the construction labor shortage and upholding productivity in a highly competitive market.


Invest in existing employees

Your present employees know your company and its culture. They’re acquainted with your policies and processes, and you’ve already financed their onboarding. For example, new employees present a greater risk of injury than veteran construction workers. Studies have demonstrated that there is a considerable boost in injury rates with workers who have been on the job not more than a year.

Truth is, it’s to your benefit to put together a team committed to your business, moving to new construction projects with you. Rather than confronting the added costs of onboarding and training, invest in the development of your existing workers.

We’ll talk about this later on.

In the meantime . . .


Is temporary staffing a partial solution to workforce shortages?

During the Great Recession of 2008-09, construction organizations often furloughed workers. Meanwhile, they also abolished apprenticeship programs that would have encouraged long-term careers in the construction industry. Many current or would-be employees departed the field, never to return.


Such workforce shortages make construction projects more pricy and slower to complete. To contend with these shortages, construction businesses can make use of temporary tradespeople to add to their crucial workforce needs. This also gives them time to think through their long-term staffing strategy.

Using short-term general labor, general and skilled construction workers and skilled tradespeople helps to solve three essential initiatives for today’s construction business:

  • Temporary tradespeople make it easier to scale your workforce on an as-needed footing to enhance productivity.
  • By adding to your full-time workforce with temporary craftspeople, your construction business is in a better position to sustain a safe and healthy working environment while providing permanent workers with any extra help required.
  • Temporary tradespeople can also deliver specific skill sets that your full-time staff may not possess when needed.


Do you always manage seasonal hiring properly?

It’s a fact. Construction projects have a cyclical nature. When the project is in progress, people may be required to work shifts without days off and/or no holidays. When there’s a delay or a gap between several projects, people anticipate a falloff in work hours and sooner or later, in pay checks.


When such cutbacks happen routinely, employee turnover is high.


To hold onto loyal employees, consider creating a site bonus system that will function as a back-up in the course of project delays. Educate employees on what financial incentives they get through all cycles of the project. And when everything does go flawlessly, and your crew meets their target, offer extra awards such as a free meal at a local family restaurant or tickets to a ballgame to make employees feel valued and raring to do more quality work.



Do you provide training and career options where possible?

For any industry, investing in the workforce’s skills is essential. This construction industry is no exception.


First and foremost, you need to invest in training employees on the proper use of tools and technology at the construction workplace. Unqualified employees not only delay the work, but they also cause resource mismanagement. This can have both productivity and financial implications.


You also want to make everyone aware of the career opportunities available within the organization and make sure the appropriate training is both available and easily accessible. You might do so by joining forces with area educational institutions, trade schools and apprenticeship programs to provide opportunities for training and skills development. Create partnerships to offer internships, apprenticeships and mentoring programs to attract and encourage a new generation of skilled workers. By cultivating talent and offering pathways for career growth, your construction company can construct a robust pipeline of skilled labor for the future.



Do you consider shorter construction contracts?

Construction contracts with vague terms and a bunch of legal jargon can be tough for your teams to understand. How can you anticipate productivity to be high if your workforce simply cannot grasp the project outline? Think about creating clear and concise construction contracts of shorter length so workers know that they are supposed to do and perform appropriately.


Short construction contracts help make sure all team members are on the same page. They also help get rid of the need to rework contracts, saving both time and money.



Do you use your own time efficiently?

Did you know that when you devote hours manually processing invoices or tracking payments, you’re performing double work? On the other hand, this time could be spent more efficiently when you have the right tool for the job.


As a prime example, by automating time-consuming and mind-numbing tasks with the proper construction management software, you can free up valuable time which you could spend on improving operations.


Speaking of automation . . .



Do technology and automation help your firm do more with less?

Employees need tools and modern technology to be productive. In the construction industry, where tasks require a lot of hard work, providing workers with the correct tools directly impacts productivity.


Technology is one surefire way construction companies are boosting efficiency and lowering costs to combat the labor shortage. It’s not just a good idea, it’s an absolute necessity. Technology and automation can help ease labor shortages by increasing productivity and reducing dependence on manual labor.


Solutions that help with project management help conserve time and money by streamlining manual tasks and improving teamwork among crews, foremen, project managers and other stakeholders. Construction cameras fall under this grouping, as they can be deployed to help keep crews productive and allow project managers to address issues that might possibly bring about delays.


More to the point, time-lapse photography and streaming video can help project managers uncover and tackle issues that could trigger project delays. For example, a bird’s eye view may expose issues with materials delivery and storage and other would-be problems that could affect scheduling. Project managers can take swift action to lessen delays and keep things running smoothly.


What’s more, by applying construction technologies such as Building Information Modeling, robotics and prefabrication, to name but a few, you can streamline processes, boost efficiency and lower labor requirements. After all, automated machinery is designed to handle repetitive tasks, freeing up your skilled workers for more complex activities.


The bottom line: By integrating technology and automation into your construction processes, companies can accomplish more with fewer resources.


One more thing, younger workers are more apt to want to work for a tech-savvy company, so expanding the technology you use in both the office and on site can help you look more attractive.


We mentioned construction management software . . .



Do you make proper use of construction management software?

Studies have demonstrated that the typical worker on a jobsite only spends about 30 percent of their time on productive work, while the other 70 percent is spent on unproductive processes including tracking down the latest plans or getting assignments.


One possible solution to correct these inefficiencies is jobsite management software. One provider of such software reports it can save up to one hour per person per day on every construction jobsite by simply allowing users to retrieve and share data more readily, plan and manage work without a glitch and track and report progress in real time, all while prioritizing the needs of the field.


Not a bad deal when you take into account that time saved today is about more than just profitability, it’s about productivity.



Have you heard about lean construction practices?

Implementing lean construction practices can help boost the use of resources and reduce waste. Adopting lean principles such as just-in-time material delivery, lean scheduling and continuous improvement can also help supplement the budget.


You can also minimize rework and delays by improving coordination among different trades and subcontractors. Efficient project planning and scheduling will help eliminate bottlenecks and optimize labor allocation.


These are but a few of the examples of lean construction practices.



Do you always set realistic goals?

We understand the requirement to deliver projects faster, but you must set realistic goals. Take time to investigate the existing resources and manpower and compare it with the project deadlines to set realistic goals for teams. Also, you can use project management applications to employ data collected at various sites to create accurate team deadlines.


Yes, you have a great workforce, but their productivity is still limited, so setting realistic goals will put an end to undue pressure and mental stress. The best managers set reasonable goals for workers to encourage them and boost their productivity.



Do you update construction inventory on a routine basis?

For the most part, construction projects unavoidably have a large inventory, which needs to be updated routinely. Poor inventory management is one of the chief reasons why projects are delayed.


You simply cannot depend on the workforce to warn you about any shortages in construction materials or tools; this is something that your project managers and supervisors must do proactively, with timely inventory audits. This ensures that the essential construction materials and tools are available at the construction site when needed.


Make use of any and all of the available tools for proper planning and forecasting so that supplies are regularly stocked before they run out. This can only boost productivity, again, especially where there is a shortage of labor.



Have a Plan B and C

You can’t change influences such as the weather but can surely lessen their effect with proper planning. Accessing the site in rain, snow, heat and noise– you need to investigate each factor that could cause delays, consider the risks and come up with a Plan B and C.



Can you help reboot interest in the industry?

While you certainly can’t tackle this one unaccompanied, it’s important to include this in your business plan. Frame each new project as if it were a piece of artwork, something new to take on that’s exciting and unique. Help bring back the love for this trade for new generations.


As we’ve mentioned, update your working environment by welcoming the construction technologies out there. Support mentorship and apprenticeship programs to bring in new workers, revealing them to the industry and your own broadminded way of thinking.



Some conclusions

The construction labor shortage presents a genuine challenge for the industry, but with appropriate planning and proactive processes, companies can plot a course around this barrier while maintaining productivity.


By investing in workforce development, adding to recruitment and retention activities, incorporating technology and automation, promoting teamwork, employing lean practices and spotlighting worker well-being programs, construction firms can conquer the labor shortage and maintain project success.


If you need some help in this critical area, don’t hesitate to contact the professionals at PDDM Solutions. They have the know-how and experience to assist in tackling these labor shortages and productivity issues.