Constructor - July/August 2014 - (Page 69)
Technology, Productivity and Worker Availability
BY KEN SIMONSON
AGC OF AMERICA
THE AVERAGE PEDESTRIAN PEERING
through a construction fence or motorist
crawling through a work zone probably
doesn't notice any change in how those
projects are performed compared to a few
years ago. But any contractor can point
out dozens of differences in materials,
machinery, methods and manpower.
Thanks to productivity improvements,
contractors have been able to maintain
solvency in spite of rising materials costs.
From the end of 2010, when construction
spending began to pull out of its long slide,
through April 2014, the producer price
index for all materials used in construction-including items consumed by contractors, such as diesel fuel-climbed more
than 10 percent. The price contractors say
they would charge to put up nonresidential buildings has risen about 9 percent
over the same period, based on producer
price indexes. The National Highway
Construction Cost Index suggests that
highway contractors have raised prices
even less than building contractors.
Methods such as Building Information
Modeling (BIM) and its emerging counterparts for civil construction enable contractors to estimate material needs more
accurately, reduce rework, match delivery
of materials with availability of equipment
and labor, and drive down construction
costs in other ways. Laser- and GPSguided equipment can eliminate several
steps in getting surfaces and systems
positioned properly. Equipment performance and reliability advances permit
more installation with less downtime.
Manufacturing offsite (modules that are
lifted into place), near-site (bridges that
are rolled into position), and onsite before
erection (tilt-up walls for warehouses)
save time and can improve quality.
The impact of these changes on labor
demand varies. In some settings, a single
@Constr uctor Ma g
Construction takes place on The Crest at Galvez Plaza, winner of a 2014 Alliant Build
America award in the category of Building New Under $10M, by Arrighi Construction, LLC
of Baton Rouge. Photo courtesy of www.ﬂ ickr.com/photos/agcofamerica.
skilled worker can now do what formerly
required assistants. For some types of
equipment, the need to handle several
levers simultaneously has been replaced
by requirements for computer skills. Ofﬁce
jobs change, too, with the ability to share
plans or other documents, log in materials
and workers, and record the construction
process electronically rather than through
endless stacks of paper.
These changes have enabled contractors to increase the value of construction
put in place over the last four years by
17 percent, while increasing their headcount by only 8 percent. It is fortunate
that they have been able to achieve such
productivity gains, because over that time
span far more unemployed workers have
left the industry than have rejoined it.
The number of unemployed, experienced
construction workers fell by 1.1 million
between April 2010 and April 2014. But 60
percent of those workers either found jobs
outside of construction, or they went back
to school, retired or left the workforce.
Construction industry employment rose
by only 445,000 over four years.
The number of unemployed former construction workers has shrunk by more than
half since 2010. That's good news for those
workers. But it also means that contractors
will increasingly have to lure workers from
other industries, hire inexperienced workers, or turn to more labor-saving equipment and techniques. Attracting workers
from elsewhere can be a challenge, given
the working conditions and uncertainty of
continuous employment in construction.
The pool of new high school and college
graduates is no longer growing, and the
number of people completing military service-in the past, a good source of workers
for construction-will shrink as the U.S.
reduces its armed forces.
Thus, what goes on behind the
construction fence or Jersey wall will
entail even more use of technology. And
maybe the public will start to notice! ◆
J U L Y / A U G U S T 2 0 1 4 | www.constructormagazine.com 69
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Constructor - July/August 2014
BIM: Where Is the Money?
Life Inside the Cone Zones
Cost-Effective Mobile Apps for Contractors
The AGC Alternative Cuts Cost and Burden of Health Insurance
Recipe for Success
Profiles in Synergy
Equipment Costs Down, Bottom Lines Up
Willis and AGC: Partners in Safety
2014 AGC/willis Construction Safety Excellence Award Winners
Recent Trends in State Laws Affecting Construction
A Contractor’s Perspective: Where Is Our Industry Headed?
Defying Gravity and All Odds
AGC in Action
Innovative Program Gives Job Seekers Virtual Experience in Highway Construction Careers
From Classroom to Construction
Opportunities Grow, but Contractors Find Challenges With Sureties
Member and Chapter News
Legislative and Regulatory News
The Ship in the Bottle and Other Bookish Tales
More Content On
2014 Regional Resource Guide - a Special Advertising Section
Index to Advertisers
Constructor - July/August 2014