Do you remember when the construction industry first started talking about the skilled labor shortage? There was a lot of buzz as post-recession claims about an imminent labor squeeze finally turned into reality. Manufacturers, economists and optimists theorized solutions. Companies were aggressive in their recruiting efforts. But as the construction industry started booming, causing the skilled labor gap to widen at an alarming rate, the buzz fizzled down to one question: Is the skilled labor shortage ever going to get better?
While all of us in the construction industry would like the answer to be yes (and quickly please!), research indicates there is no rainbow in sight. For every five people leaving the construction field today, only one enters it. Compounding the problem is the fact that the average age of skilled construction workers is now more than 50 years old. To make matters even more complex, construction activity is expanding.
According to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), forty-five states and the District of Columbia added construction jobs over the past year. While this is indicative of a good business environment, it puts the squeeze on an already tight labor market. A recent AGC survey underscored this finding, reporting that eighty percent of construction firms said they are having trouble hiring hourly craftsmen and eighty one percent expected that hiring would remain difficult or become harder. As Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist recapped, “Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread.”
So, how does a long-term perspective change our approach to construction going forward? One of the best ways is to identify how we can adjust our processes to meet the changing needs of the skilled labor workforce. At Oldcastle SurePods, we believe pre-fab construction is at the top of the list.
Why pre-fab construction makes sense
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why pre-fab construction makes sense:
1. Minimize onsite assembly work – As the labor market continues to tighten and a growing number of construction projects face delays, it will be key to utilize methods that reduce the amount of onsite assembly work. Pre-fab construction can help by allowing building teams do more with less. Modular units like SurePods are built in a controlled factory setting to exact standards and arrive at the jobsite ready to install. They can help minimize onsite assembly work and expedite construction all while reducing the need for qualified trade workers.
The benefits of removing labor from construction sites may prove even more valuable if today’s highly skilled trade workers start choosing jobs that best maximize their earnings (consider the renovation market, where working within “as built” parameters may demand more skill and therefore pay more than new construction). This could lead to an increase in worker pay as less lucrative jobs fight to stay competitive. In this scenario, one way to make overall project costs pencil out is to remove a healthy percentage of the labor from construction jobsites, which pre-fab construction can help accomplish.
2. Reduce rework – Developers know firsthand the amount of time and money lost on rework due to damage. This is particularly true in confined areas like bathrooms where many trades are working together in close proximity. Because modular units are built in a controlled setting, they can help eliminate the rework problems that plague onsite construction. They help keep the finished quality high and projects on time and on budget.
3. Simplify construction schedules – Another benefit of pre-fab, modular units is seen in construction schedules. They arrive at the jobsite fully finished and ready-to-install, reducing the need to coordinate construction schedules across multiple trades. This can range from plumbing and electrical to drywall and painting. Working with fewer trades can help offset labor woes, as well as keep projects running smoothly in today’s transitioning workforce. Not to mention, it cuts down on headaches!
To learn more about how pre-fab construction and modular units like SurePods can be a smart solution in a tight skilled labor market, contact Bill Seery, Oldcastle SurePods vice president of business development: Bill.Seery@oldcastle.com.