Transforming construction productivity

Using construction software to address labour shortage
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
by Susan McCutcheon

For those in Canada’s construction industry, the nationwide labour shortage is concerning. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), almost 362,000 jobs across the country will go unfilled. The situation is even more severe in certain provinces like British Columbia where 90 per cent of construction companies struggle to find field labour. Just a year ago, only 60 per cent of companies were challenged with filling their skilled positions. This dramatic increase is but one way to demonstrate there’s no quick fix in sight.

There are several key reasons for Canada’s labour shortage. For one, the country’s workforce is currently aging rapidly with Baby Boomers eagerly retiring. Fewer younger generations, such as Millennials, are no longer choosing trades for their careers. Further, there are not as many foreign workers as previously available to help fill the gaps. All in all, a combination of these factors has diminished the field labour pool.

What’s not slowing down, however, is new construction. Despite the labour shortage, construction in Canada continues to boom. Heavy engineering construction alone is experiencing some of the highest surges in recent years.

How do construction companies continue to meet the growing demand of infrastructure development without sufficient workers to complete jobs? While construction recruitment should be a priority, it tends to be a long term strategy that might not necessarily provide companies the immediate help they need today.

Bridging the Labour Gap with Field-Focused Construction Software

An improvement in productivity — building more with less — is the only way that companies will be able to fill the gaps of the field labour shortage in the short term. For the last several decades, construction productivity has remained stagnant. This is primarily due to a lag in digitization. While the construction industry failed to adopt new tech and processes, sectors such as manufacturing embraced automation and software, and in turn experienced a doubling of productivity. If its productivity were to catch up with the progress made by other sectors, the construction industry’s value would increase by $1.6 trillion a year– equivalent to the GDP of Canada.

Software should be considered another tool of the jobsite, but one that allows foremen and superintendents in the field to get more done with less. Construction software can help companies run a more productive project in several key ways:

1. Get Off the Paper Trail

If your company continues to work off of paper blueprints and documents, you’re wasting serious time and money, and increasing your risk. Communicating changes with your team when you’re working from paper is ineffective: every change and every person responsible for implementing the change has to wait for blueprints to be updated, paper to be printed and new sets delivered. Re-work is almost certain to occur, increasing costs and yes, labour needs.

When contractors ditch paper for digital documentation — particularly when this digital documentation is easy for the field to use — they are eliminating the risk of workers building from outdated blueprints. A digital system allows for one up-to-date record set and gives no room for the miscommunication that happens when different copies of documentation are available on jobsites. As a result, lean teams can complete construction faster.

2. Improve Communication and Collaboration
Construction productivity software improves collaboration by providing increased visibility and streamlines communications. Mobile devices (phones and tablets) are the main form of communication in the field, and technology specifically built for mobile makes it easy to connect labour in the field with each other, and with the office, in real-time. The most up-to-date plans are available and the people you need to connect with, whether that’s a project engineer in the trailer or an electrical sub, are only a button-push away. By reducing communication gaps, more can be done with the workforce you have.

3. Enhance Recruitment and Retention with a Tech-Friendly Culture
It often feels like construction workers can be divided into two major groups; those who embrace technology and those who run from it. Industry veterans typically tend to shy away from new tech solutions. On the other hand, Millennials are eager to jump on the tech bandwagon, and unfortunately are finding construction firms failing to deliver.

If you want recruit an up-and coming-workforce, now is the time to reach out to them and demonstrate they can continue to use latest tech as they learn the construction business. While the departure of Baby Boomers leaves a big gap, many of these older craftsmen didn’t trust the innovative (and powerful) technology being introduced to the field. Incorporating field software can make your company more appealing to younger workers and in turn, empowers your Millennial labour to perform as efficiently as possible on your site.

But it’s not all one sided: Millennials are likely to help older employees ease into new tech — and established workers can share their wealth of industry knowledge and experience in return. Overall, adopting new technology in the workforce is a win-win for employees and firms alike.

Empower Leaner Teams with Software

The benefits of construction software are endless. From increasing communication and collaboration, eliminating an inefficient paper trail and even adding to new worker recruitment, Canadian companies can face the skilled labour shortage head-on with the right technology. At the end of the day, it will allow teams to build more with the time and resources they have — working smarter, not harder.


Susan McCutcheon is the Canada country manager at PlanGrid, a leader in construction productivity software.

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