Today’s digital QA technology can help builders large and small deal with labor shortages and potential construction problems
By Don Neff
Residential development has increased nationwide. With that increase comes a growing shortage of skilled construction labor. The impact on housing is widespread across all product types from multifamily to detached housing, condominiums, and townhomes. The NAHB reports that the total open-position rate for the construction sector has been trending upward since 2012. The last time builders reported labor shortages this widespread was just before 2001 during a prolonged period of strong GDP growth with overall unemployment as low as four percent. The NAHB further points out that several years after the Great Recession drove an estimated 30 percent of construction workers into new fields, builders still struggle to find qualified labor.
With the constant demand for new housing nationwide, we expect to see ongoing labor shortage issues. We know from on-the-ground experience that these issues are especially challenging in areas like the Sunbelt States, where demand for housing (especially apartments) continues to outpace supply.
Labor shortage issues correlate with construction issues. Common causes of construction issues include deficiencies in field workmanship, misinterpretation of plan details, and deviations from manufacturer’s recommendations. In housing tract and multifamily construction, one deficiency can open the door for more deficiencies, repeated over and over again.
Identifying potential construction defects can be challenging under any circumstance. Based on our analysis of hundreds of projects nationwide, there appears to be no single dominant source of construction problems.
Our original research shows that three key elements share the blame equally, although this trend varies by region. Similarly, scheduling hiccups can vary from project to project within the same builder organization as a function of the respective site construction team leaders’ level of skill in conducting their orchestra of numerous tradesmen.
This raises the difficulty bar in finding the root cause of construction problems, since there is not just one primary source of failure.
As with any defect, the quicker the discovery is made and resolution found, the lower the cost. But it’s not a simple matter of a keen eye and a sharp pencil. There are multiple assemblies that make up a building structure that could be potentially impacted by construction defects, and some are largely hidden from view. This creates two types of defects: patent and latent. The former is readily observable, such as drywall stains from water intrusion; but the latter is not apparent, such as below grade waterproofing or foundation failures from poor installations and/or questionable product specification choices.
Technology Offers a Solution
Advances in mobile app digital technology are changing the way builders and construction managers survey, assess, and respond to potential construction problems. These advances have proven to be effective in minimizing problems resulting from labor shortages. For example, the features and benefits of high-tech quality assurance methodologies can help locate, communicate, and resolve construction issues before they become bigger problems. This can save a builder or general contractor potentially millions of dollars in post-closing legal and remediation costs.
Smart phone QA apps available today connect the field to the office in same day, real time reporting, thus helping to provide immediate statistical feedback on trade work, educating trades on quality issues, and protecting project pro formas with on-time, on-budget performance. 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, new, cloud-based 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, a common characteristic of multifamily construction.
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 problematic trend that could turn into costly construction defect litigation. Catching these types of problems by 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.
Don Neff is the President/CEO, LJP Construction Services. For more information, visit www.ljpltd.com.