Alleviating Construction Conundrums Through Technology

Today’s digital QA technology can help builders deal with labor shortages and potential construction problems

By DON NEFF

The building industry is presently challenged by labor constraints across multiple trades in multiple regions.

The current labor shortages are impacting all residential product types such as for-sale detached housing, condominiums, townhomes, and multifamily housing as well as commercial office, hotel, industrial and other similar projects. The National Association of Home Builders points out that eight years after the Great Recession drove an estimated 30 percent of construction workers into new fields, homebuilders across the country are still struggling to find qualified labor. A few high-density product type builders are moving into panelized and modular construction solutions, but this is only one solution to the labor shortage problem.

With persistent demand for new housing nationwide, we expect to see the ongoing labor shortage to continue, which we know from on-the-ground experience is especially challenging in areas such as Southern California—our home base—and in other sunbelt markets, where demand for housing continues to outpace supply. Another solution is to make a significant investment re-establishing trade schools to train the next generation of contractors. We see this initiative occurring in Europe and some US communities.

Lacking top grade craftsmen, builders resort to B and C quality trades, requiring more tedious oversight and “babysitting” by field superintendents and construction managers. Absent an available, qualified, and well-trained labor force, builders and contractors deal with increasing quality assurance burdens in the field, leaving themselves and their insurance carriers potentially exposed to a higher risk of construction defect litigation.

Common causes include deficiencies in field workmanship, misinterpretation of plan details, and deviations from manufacturer recommendations. Furthermore, these deficiencies can become manifest in concrete foundations, framing assemblies, weatherproofing elements, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and fire-rated and acoustical assemblies.

Digital Technology is a Solution

Advances in mobile app technology are changing the way builders and construction managers survey, assess, and respond to potential problem areas, and have proven effective in minimizing problems associated with labor shortages. The features and benefits of high- tech quality assurance methodologies can help locate, communicate and resolve construction issues in real time before they become bigger problems, saving a builder or general contractor and insurance carriers potentially millions of dollars in post-closing legal and remediation costs.

Smartphone QA apps connect the field to the office in same day reporting, thus helping to provide statistical feedback on trade performance, educating trades on quality issues, and protecting project pro formas. The app is an important addition to the builders’ toolbox, helping forge stronger GC-trade contractor relationships, worry-free project deliveries, and protecting the bottom-line.

Additionally, the new, cloud-based digital technology can reduce build-cycle time, lower indirect project costs and more accurately store and analyze information from current job site tasks and activities. This can be helpful for the next project bid by identifying where cycle time bottle necks and deficiencies occurred on the last project of similar design and building configuration.

Real Time Reporting

Armed with digital solutions, a QA construction expert can identify and report in real time project deficiencies, scheduling hiccups, good and bad workmanship illustrated in project photos, and project notes that can be sent and received the same day of the site visit. Armed with this time critical data, the construction manager, together with the trade contractor, can track time-sensitive, outstanding items until close-out and prioritize critical path deficiencies which might otherwise slow down a project.

Today’s quality assurance methodologies can also help determine whether a builder’s site management is a contributor to project issues or delays; a site manager must effectively schedule, direct, and manage the trade contractors in a collaborative effort to assure work is completed on schedule within budget, following approved plans and specs and achieving acceptable standards of care.

Finally, advanced QA technology can clearly identify construction and vendor problems that could exist across several different projects in different locales, allowing the builder to act quickly to rectify problems before they become a costly construction defect litigation. Catching these types of problems through an ongoing, methodical quality assurance process before they become hidden defects can save builders and contractors millions of dollars in repairs or in lawsuits, not to mention damage to their all-important product and company reputations.

Digital QA gives the site manager and/or management team helpful tools in their tool box for contributing to these goals. Our concluding thought is:“What’s in your tool-box?”

Don Neff is the President and CEO of LJP Construction Services. He can be reached at www.ljpltd.com

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