New research by Construction Manager and software company PlanGrid highlights the need for technology to solve the productivity and labour crisis within construction.
The productivity crisis in the construction sector is a rising, yet not a new concern within the industry. As cost and schedule overruns burden a vast majority of projects, it’s a consistent reminder that UK construction productivity has not budged over the last 20 years, remaining the same in 2015 as it was in 1994.
Beyond businesses, the productivity gap in construction has a broader impact in the UK. Rob Elvidge, Director at PlanGrid EMEA, explains, “The construction industry provides vital ingredients that enhance a nation’s productivity, creating the infrastructure that allows resources to be moved around successfully. The performance of the sector impacts the economy as a whole and plays a critical role in helping to solve the UK productivity puzzle.”
While the complexities of construction are plentiful–rising costs, a shortage of labour, many project stakeholders with complicated contracts, just to name a few–are there some factors that are contributing more significantly to productivity stagnation in the industry? Furthermore, are there solutions that can be implemented, both time and cost-effectively, to give construction the productivity boost it needs to meet our world’s growing demands?
To identify the root causes of UK construction productivity loss–and learn how to solve in–Construction Manager and PlanGrid recently surveyed UK construction professionals.
The study identified four primary areas that drained productivity that could be addressed through the utilisation of construction technology:
- Lack of resources, including labour (49%)
- The speed and accuracy of data (42%)
- Too much focus on administrative tasks (37%)
- Coordination/scheduling issues (33%)
The full report is now available to download:
Technology Leads to Better Data and Coordination
In construction, poor data and communication directly impact productivity because they lead to errors and conflict. In turn, loss of accuracy and coordination gaps cause rework, putting projects on the path for both cost and schedule overruns. “Dealing with avoidable errors is not only a waste of time – it’s incredibly disheartening for the team involved and even potentially damaging to client relationships,” says Elvidge.
Without detailed data and information and seamless coordination, teams will waste time picking up the pieces to get projects back on track. The study further solidified the significant time waste of non-value added activities. When asked which factors take up the most unnecessary time on jobs, respondents identified three key areas:
- Dealing with mistakes and rework (68%)
- Conflict resolution (49%)
- Scheduling communications and meetings with other project stakeholders (42%)
With digital tools that enhance collaboration and information sharing, project teams are well-equipped to work more accurately and conflict-free.
“Relationships and trust on jobsites are key to success.” Elvidge continues, “Working well together will improve every metric and benefit all partners. Smart collaboration tools can help, by enabling businesses to share information quickly and efficiently, reducing errors and outlining clear responsibilities for everyone involved.”
Construction Technology Fills Labour Gaps
The majority (38%) of survey respondents see squeezed access to labour as the top challenge for the UK construction industry in the next 12 month. Nevertheless, the labour shortage has been an ongoing issue in the construction industry globally, as fewer younger workers entering the job market are intentionally pursuing trades as a career.
In addition to enhanced collaboration and data that construction technology provides, software and automation technologies also open doors to reduce the administrative tasks that over one-third of survey respondents reported “impacted productivity”. When fewer resources, like staff, are available, technology is a leading strategy for teams to fill the productivity gaps needed to perform.
More technology in the workplace is also vital to recruitment and retention of skilled labour. Tracy Young, CEO and Co-Founder of PlanGrid, explains,
“Using digital technology is a brilliant way to not only improve the working lives of existing employees but attract digitally native workers into the construction industry.”
She continues, “Digital natives want to use technology at work and will be attracted to the industries–and firms–that provide it. It will be an important way for individual businesses and the sector as a whole to improve UK construction productivity, for today and for the future.”
Additionally, more technology on the job could help increase worker engagement and reduce absenteeism that 13% of the construction professionals describe as an “ongoing management headache.”
Full Tech Adoption Remains a Long Road Ahead
It’s not just companies who are waking up to the productivity benefits of construction technology. Just in early July, the British government announced it will commit £420 million pounds of public and private money on new construction technology, the largest investment the industry has seen in a decade.
While the government initiative is promising, an uphill battle remains for companies to fully embrace technology. Even today, UK construction companies still rely heavily on traditional methods and tools in construction. In fact, the majority of construction firms still rely on paper to share drawings, plans and other key documentation with the project team.
According to the Construction Manager and PlanGrid research, 22% say that their building projects are entirely paper-based, while 32% run less than a quarter of projects without paper. Furthermore, just 12% of respondents run three quarters or more of their projects without paper.
A significant hurdle to adopting paperless technologies remains perceived cost.
“Historically, many businesses have been put off using paperless systems due to fears about its costs and concerns about their effectiveness on sites without internet access,” notes Elvidge.
On the other hand, paper is not only unreliable for collaboration and data, but the costs of printing add up. For a large portion of construction companies, these costs are going untracked, as 48% of industry professionals report they don’t know how their firm tracks the cost of paper spend.
Elvidge continues, “The rise of devices like tablets and smartphones – as well as the availability of offline drawings powered by cloud-based software – means that paperless tools are both affordable and accessible to use on jobsites.”
How Firms Are (Slowly) Piecing Together the Puzzle
Although the study indicated a heavy reliance on paper systems, there were some more promising results that point to the rise of digital tools in construction. Fifty-two percent of respondents recorded using file sharing tools like Dropbox to share and access drawings – by far the most common technology to have been adopted by industry professionals.
Nonetheless, there’s still room for improvement. “It’s promising to see a growing appetite for adopting technology in the construction industry. But to make paperless technology work for the team, it has to be connected and shared in a useful way,” Elvidge comments.
After file sharing tools, a significant drop off in technology usage is reported with 13% adopting Building Information Modelling (BIM), 5% using scheduling software, 5% utilising estimate software and 5% working with web conferencing for meetings.
In particular, collaboration software, like PlanGrid, has been identified as a critical, yet underutilised, tool to improve communications and to enhance the quality and speed of data. Both a replacement for paper-based plans and project documents and a centralised communication platform, systems like PlanGrid boosts firms performance and ability to gather and apply data.
Olaf Wagner, Head of the Quality and Technology Department for Sobha LLC in Dubai, remarks, “We took already available technology and awareness and added PlanGrid to it, allowing us to take site collaboration and data sharing to the next level. Employees are visibly energized to work with a mobile, cloud-based application, which improves their productivity and drastically increases the amount of time they spend on site.”
Elvidge adds, “By using a single platform to integrate drawings, annotations, reports, photos and issue reporting in one place, you can ensure that the data is linked and everyone can access what they need when they need it.”
To learn more about the findings of the UK construction productivity report, watch our webinar.
As a top-rated construction productivity tool, PlanGrid helps teams deliver on time, every day. To find out how PlanGrid can help UK construction firms, learn more here.