With about $10 trillion spent on construction-related goods and services every year, construction is one of the largest sectors in the world economy. However, the construction industry’s productivity has failed to keep up with other sectors and there is a $1.6 trillion opportunity to close the gap. Read on for an article from First Time Quality’s Ed Caldeira for more.

By: Ed Caldeira | First Time Quality

The construction sector is one of the largest in the world economy, with about $10 trillion spent on construction-related goods and services every year.

However, McKinsey’s Reinventing Construction Report states that the construction industry’s productivity has failed to keep up with other sectors for decades, and there is a $1.6 trillion opportunity to close the gap.

This research by McKinsey’s shows that productivity can be improved by 50-60 percent with a focus on several areas. These are: reshape regulation; rewire the contractual framework to reshape industry dynamics; rethink design and engineering processes; improve procurement and supply-chain management; improve on-site execution; infuse digital technology, new materials, and advanced automation; and reskill the workforce.

Improve on-site execution
Construction suffers from a serious and well known quality problem. Our industry is its own worst enemy. There are low expectations of first time quality from skilled building trades and that is exactly what we get. We suffer with a constant stream of quality issues coupled with antiquated QA/QC methods that do not reliably catch and prevent them. It is simply a broken system that is behind the quality curve compared to other industries and drags down productivity as well.

Infuse Digital Technology
Furthermore, the construction industry remains one of the least digitized sectors in the world behind agriculture. This is in stark contrast to the retail and manufacturing sectors, for example, that have been digitized extensively. New investors in factory construction think they have the answer in the form of prefab panels, pre-assembled walls, 3D printing, or volumetric modules – all meant to guarantee quality assurance and save time. But they all have one thing in common – they replace skilled building trades craftsmen with unskilled factory workers.

Interestingly enough, unskilled factory workers use mostly the same building technologies. All factory-built assemblies have similar building components as site-built buildings. The biggest difference is in the work environment of the building and construction trades industry and how it is managed. Even the automation is limited to the nailing of panels and other very routine unskilled work. The overall skilled work content is more or less equivalent.

The big difference is that factories take unskilled people, train them and then expect nothing less than first-time quality – performing quality control checks after every stage of production to make sure of it.

What’s needed is a productivity and quality revolution – a complete paradigm shift in building and construction trades and construction industries.

Site builders need to adopt new operational strategies from factory builders to improve quality and productivity. The following lessons can be identified:

Lesson One: Training
The benefits of properly training craftsmen is that you can expect first time quality from craftsmen that are fully capable of carrying out their trade work. It is well worth the time and effort. Proper training improves work quality, reduces injuries and minimizes turnover. Below are some useful training tips that you can implement to make your job site training as effective as possible:

Start with your expectations for quality work ­— Make sure you clearly define the quality results you expect.  Pictures of good work paired with descriptions of key features does a good job of calibrating everyone to the same goals.  Back this up with work procedures with tools and techniques that should be used. Here again, pictures can tell the story of how to do the job. Now you have something to train to.

Provide the best trainers — Make sure your trainers are respected senior personnel that not only know their trade but are also good with people and excited about your company.

Everyone gets trained — Even when you hire experienced people, you need to confirm that they know how to do the job the way you want it done.

Use hands-on training — Keep in mind that construction trades are hands-on people that learn best through doing and can see the results of their work. This is particularly important for personnel where English is not the first language.

Tackle one task at a time — New employees in building and construction trades can easily get overwhelmed. Break the job into a series of tasks. Cover each training area from start to finish before moving on.

Start safety training right away — It’s important to show not just how to do the job but how to do it safely. Demonstrating accident prevention to new craftsmen will go a long way in reducing injuries and help build a culture of safety.

Embed your key expectations in checklists — Checklists provide the canvas for communicating what you expect and acts a reminder every time the checklist is used. Used in this way, checklists extend and reinforce your training on the jobsite.

Use your inspection process to build confidence — Tell trainees when they are doing a good job. When they make a mistake, share one of the mistakes you made when you were first learning on the job. Your goal is to use these opportunities as a continuation of the training process.

Training is essential for unskilled building trades craftsmen – and ongoing training of skilled craftsmen is something every company in the building and construction trades should be doing. It’s an investment that pays dividends for your company.

Lesson Two: Expect First-Time Quality (FTQ)
We may do our jobs and try our best, but still, if we don’t achieve First-Time Quality, we lose precious time, our reputation, raw materials and financial resources. FTQ is a culture of excellence comprised of a mindset, a way of acting and a practical toolbox that creates an atmosphere in which teams and individuals get it right the first time. This is the safety net that guarantees quality.

But, how do you achieve FTQ for the building and construction trades? What will make it happen? FTQ is achieved if all staff and management take personal responsibility to focus on each and every task, follow procedures, report faults and raise red flags on time. It is achieved when teams proactively detect faults, help each other to fix them before moving on to the next stage, continuously learn from mistakes and share the lessons with others.

You will also achieve FTQ if you take preventive rather than corrective actions and strive to meet the highest quality standards along with ambitious project delivery schedules.

Lesson Three: Site Quality Inspections
Site quality inspections are important for several reasons:

Hold everyone accountable: The first is to hold everyone accountable for quality. Not just to verify proper completion of work, but also as a feedback loop for craftsmen and management to fine-tune attention to details, enhance training and streamline construction processes.

Monitor progress: Inspections determine the speed and accuracy of the project based on the scope of the work contract.

Facilitate communication: Personal communication during a joint site inspection with all stakeholders is more interactive than mediated communication (phone, email, etc.).

Ensure safety: This includes usage of equipment, storage of materials, the path of moving from one floor to another, and the like.

Delegate tasks: Inspection establishes transparency in the responsibilities of each construction worker.

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