Labor Shortages Change the Construction-Quality Game

Lacking top-grade craftsmen, builders have to resort to B and C quality trades, which leads to a greater risk of construction problems.

Don-Neff_800x640While responding to growing demand for new housing and apartments, the building industry is concurrently managing through labor constraints across multiple trades in multiple regions. Lacking top-grade craftsmen, builders have to resort to B and C quality trades, requiring more tedious oversight by field superintendents and construction managers, and with greater risk of construction problems.

Confronting increased workmanship issues, builders and contractors face mounting delivery pressures and delays resulting from such process challenges as effectively identifying and closing out open quality control items. This list includes potential deficiencies in field workmanship, misinterpretation of plan details, and deviations from manufacturers’ recommendations. Absent an available, qualified and well-trained labor force, a builder’s team has increased quality assurance burdens in the field, leaving their company and insurance carriers potentially exposed to a higher risk of defect litigation.

According to the results of an industry-wide survey released in September 2015 by the Associated General Contractors of America (the most recent report of its kind that we could find), an overwhelming majority of construction firms report trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots as demand for construction continued to rebound in many parts of the country. Of the 1,358 survey respondents, 86 percent said they were having difficulty filling hourly craft or salaried professional positions, particularly carpenters, sheet metal installers and concrete workers. In addition, construction firms were having a hard time finding qualified people to fill salaried professional positions, especially project managers/supervisors, estimators and engineers.

With continuing demand for new housing nationwide, we expect the results of this survey still accurately reflect ongoing labor shortage issues, which we know from on-the-ground experience are especially challenging in the Southern California market area where we are headquartered.

Old vs. new

The more traditional method of quality assurance investigation is a construction manager walking a project site with clipboard and pencil, taking notes as he or she sees issues and then going back to the construction trailer or office to write a report which is then delivered to the client two or maybe three days later. In the meantime, a small problem could become bigger and a big problem could become a major construction defect issue.

New quality assurance and control technologies that combine advanced digital capabilities with Internet connectivity can enhance production efficiency and provide the construction team with the ability to quickly and precisely produce performance insights that result in faster response to potential construction issues and the detailed information necessary to fix problems before they get worse. A quality assurance report on a client’s project can also be shared instantaneously via Internet between operating divisions and across multiple regions with the builder’s construction teams on other comparable projects such as multifamily developments.

Another important benefit of modern QA technology is that it provides a consistent and accurate project assessment from macro to micro levels, presenting a more complete and coherent view of the project site and construction work from top to bottom as opposed to a bunch of unconnected pictures and notes. This all-encompassing view of the construction site tells a more complete and comprehensive story about the project as it progresses, making it easier to identify anomalies that could be potential trouble spots.

Additionally, today’s 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 trend that could turn into costly construction defect litigation for the builder and its insurance carriers. For instance, one of the most common defects, especially in residential construction, is water intrusion, especially in window and roof assemblies. Catching these types of problems by an ongoing, methodical quality assurance process before they become hidden defects can save developers and contractors millions of dollars in repairs or in lawsuits, not to mention damage to reputation.

Builder performance metrics

LJP has tracked construction inspection data coast-to-coast over the past two years with its new CaptureQA digital app, monitoring construction of all building types so we’re able to provide valuable tips to developers, contractors, architects, insurance carriers and more. This is particularly critical in the multi-family arena where projects are much more complex. The vital factors for effective QA protection and litigation-free success in production housing include accurate plan details, durable manufactured products, following relevant manufacturer recommendations, and top-quality field workmanship in the assembly process. Capturing these data live in a real-time environment delivers three key benefits: 1) evaluation of the contractors; 2) evaluation of your field team; and 3) evaluation of overall project construction performance that is constantly communicated to builder management and insurance underwriters.

The first of these is essential in a work environment where there is a labor shortage with a scarcity of good trades, especially in areas such as Southern California where the trades are in high demand. The ability to measure trade contractor performance is a root cause identifier, and when done successfully helps builder and contractor management increase performance and quality in the field. This also includes measuring performance on different product types (e.g. single family and multifamily), with the best gauge of QA value being a successful project portfolio versus one littered with complications and losses.

Next, identifying whether your site management is a contributor to project issues or delays is obviously valuable information. Like conductors of an orchestra, they must effectively schedule, direct and manage the trade contractors in a fusion of construction and workmanship. Finally, knowing how well a contractor has performed on a project in the past may be an accurate indicator of how well it will perform on the next project going forward. From a quality perspective, knowing how well a company performs in comparison to other companies that are building the same product type across the same or in different regions, can quickly identify helpful criteria to evaluate the quality of their work or red flags of an inherent risk profile.

Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., LJP Construction Services has been at the forefront of the quality assurance movement on behalf of builder and insurance clients for nearly 25 years. Since being founded, LJP Construction Services has assisted 2,000 commercial and residential clients nationwide including builders that have constructed more than 100,000 homes throughout the U.S. More recently, LJP has tracked construction inspection data coast-to-coast over the past two years with its new CaptureQA® digital app, monitoring construction of all building types. LJP’s services also include owner representation, risk management consulting through the entire construction process, and asset management. For more information, visit