By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP, Industry Insights Research Director
BEDFORD, MA - April 23, 2018 - The construction industry has traditionally struggled to increase productivity, but that may be changing. Increased attention is being paid to improving efficiency on jobsites, driven by concerns about skilled workforce availability, changing processes and ways of working, and new technologies and tools. In two recent studies, Dodge Data & Analytics took a brief look at jobsite efficiency and did a deeper dive into prefabrication, one of the strategies used to address efficiency, as part of its quarterly Commercial Construction Index research. The findings reveal that contractors see a need for improved efficiency, believe that worker training and management are critical to impact efficiency, and regard prefabrication as a tool to improve efficiency, but only on projects where prefabrication is perceived to be applicable.
Commercial Construction Index
Every quarter, Dodge Data & Analytics conducts the Commercial Construction Index survey with approximately 200 contractors in the U.S. to determine the health of the industry. In addition to questions on backlog, revenue and optimism about the market used to calculate the index, which is published in the quarterly USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index Report, the study and subsequent report also feature a quarterly spotlight topic. In the fourth quarter of 2017, that spotlight was on improving jobsite efficiency, and in the first quarter of 2018, on the use of prefabrication.
Improving Jobsite Efficiency
While only about one quarter of contractors (26%) identify their jobsites as very inefficient, even fewer (11%) believe them to be very efficient, and most (61%) regard their jobsites as neither very inefficient nor very efficient. Thus, while few contractors consider their jobsites to be a problem, most recognize that they can be improved.
Business factors are key in driving improvements in efficiency. According to the findings, contractors expect investments in efficiency to improve their profit margins, give them a competitive advantage and allow them to address worker shortages by doing more with fewer workers. However, several factors interfere with their ability to make these investments, most notably time constraints and the effort needed to get the workforce to embrace change.
They were also asked to rank the need for improvement across four different categories that impact jobsite efficiency, which can be seen in the chart below. Labor productivity is most frequently ranked first as needing improvement, by nearly half of contractors (44%) and by a high margin above other factors. Jobsite logistics and project management tools and methods are each ranked first by about one quarter of contractors (29% and 21%, respectively), with the improvements from using advanced tools and techniques lagging far behind.
Improving Labor Productivity
Contractors were asked to select the top methods for improving labor productivity from a long list of items, and the top ranked one, selected by 40% among their top three, is increased use of prefabricated components. The other means selected by a notable percentage are increased training on communication skills (35%) and use of lean construction practices (20%). Factors considered less important include technologies like automated heavy equipment or BIM.
This attention on new processes and on softer skills like communication demonstrates that many contractors understand that the traditional models of handling labor productivity need to be improved. This awareness is likely exacerbated by the ongoing labor shortages revealed in the study, which may be why prefabrication is such a prominent strategy.
Nearly two thirds (62%) of general contractors participating in the study report that thy use have used prefabrication on a jobsite in the last three years. Nearly half of those using prefabrication (45%) also report that they have increased their use of it in that time frame. And increased use is expected to continue, with two thirds of general contractors using prefabrication who believe that market demand for it will increase in the next three years.
This ongoing increase in use of prefabrication is probably due to the benefits achieved by those using it. The top two benefits are increased efficiency onsite (reported by 89% of those using prefabrication), and improved labor productivity (85%). A high percentage see factors key to project success improve from their use of prefabrication, such as reducing the schedule (79%), improving quality (73%) and lowering construction costs (70%). These three factors are critical for owner satisfaction on projects. Contractors also experience improved safety (71%) and reduced risk (78%), and a high percentage also see waste reduction (79%), allowing for greener jobsites.
The biggest challenge facing the use of more prefabrication is its perceived applicability on projects. Respondents use prefabrication most frequently on hotels/motels, healthcare facilities, manufacturing buildings and multifamily residential projects because of the repetitive nature of the construction for these project types, but building types that have fewer repetitive spaces see less use. In fact, the top reason that contractors report not using prefabrication is that they do not think that the types of projects they work on are applicable for its use. Another factor dampening use is the lack of demand upstream: Contractors also say that they do not use prefabrication because architects are not designing it into their projects and owners aren’t asking for it.
However, most contractors who do not use prefabrication now are clearly amenable to doing so. When asked what the top factors are that would encourage them use it in the future, most say cost savings, increased labor productivity, competitive advantage in the marketplace and reduced schedule, and three out of four of these benefits are widely report by those using prefabrication. This suggests that more upstream attention to prefabrication could open the floodgates to the top factor for improving labor productivity on jobsites.
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Cailey Henderson | 104 West Partners | firstname.lastname@example.org
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