After 500 conversations with general contractors, here’s 3 things I learned

After 500 conversations with general contractors, here’s 3 things I learned

In my first year of working in the construction software space, my job was to talk to general contractors. My goal in those conversations was to understand your business and your priorities, as well as your challenges and how you resolve them. I’ve spoken to general contractors of every size, from a national presence and thousands of employees to GCs with 5 employees looking to establish their regional presence. 

Even though every company is fundamentally unique, after so many conversations I’ve noticed some common threads when it comes to technology adoption, the planning process, and putting your people first. In this article, I want to dive deeper into three trends I’ve seen:

  • Lagging technology adoption isn’t a sign of inadequacy, but a problem of complexity
  • A constant tension between short-term and long-term thinking
  • General contractors value their people

These trends point to the main problems the construction industry has to deal with, and how the solutions are often embedded in the problems themselves. By understanding these trends, you can extract insights that can help you plan for 2023.

1. Lagging technology adoption is not your fault

Construction projects are incredibly difficult. General contractors are often tasked with solving some of the most complex problems human beings have to deal with today. You have to build custom buildings, data centers, factories, and infrastructure for unique clients with changing tastes, you have to deal with ever-shifting deadlines, and manage vast workforces with specialty skills.

While the complexity is increasing, it’s no secret that the construction industry is lagging behind in technological adoption. Some may chalk that up to a lack of innovation and an aversion to technology due to being “old-school”, but from my experience, it isn’t fair to make that characterization. The reason for a lack of innovation comes from the scale of the challenges the construction industry faces. Since the problems are so complex, the processes and the technology that improves those processes has to be able to import that complexity and export it in an efficient and user-friendly way. 

Think of it this way, it wasn’t until the last 5 years or so that computers had the processing power to actually capture, store, and crunch all the data associated with each and every project. It’s why we’re seeing such an influx of construction technology today. It’s not that the construction industry is lagging behind other industries, it’s that the technology is only now beginning to deliver the value general contractors need to warrant the adoption.

Simply put, you’re doing the best you can with the tools you have. Spreadsheets have helped move away from paper-driven processes, but more efficient and effective tools are on the rise. General contractors are willing to innovate as long as the tool being implemented can handle the scale of the problem they have to deal with. 

As 2023 approaches it’s important to take a look at how your current tools are scaling with you. Are they supporting your growth? Are they able to give you rich data so you can incrementally improve processes? Are they fostering collaboration or insulating data into silos? Is your team being used as effectively as possible?

Answering these questions thoroughly can lead you to making the decision to update your technology in lagging areas of your organization. A key thing to keep in mind when examining the technology is whether or not the software will simplify the increasing complexity of your company as it grows. 

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2. There is a tension between short-term and long-term thinking

I was recently speaking to the Vice President of a large construction company. I asked him how he currently manages his workforce and some of the challenges he has with planning it across their project pipeline.

He told me construction is a completely reactive industry. Nothing is guaranteed. He even went as far as to say that planning long-term was impossible. Now, this was obviously an exaggeration considering his reputation and the longevity of his career. However, the thing that stood out to me wasn’t his claims, but the stress behind them, I heard the same tone dozens of times before. 

A lot of the general contractors I’ve spoken to are constantly putting out fires that are threatening to derail a project. Problems like scheduling conflicts, labor shortages, unknown site conditions, or rising material costs can snowball and cause delays. If you multiply those issues across multiple projects that span over a period of years, the high levels of stress and burnout experienced at the operational level will undoubtedly trickle down to your workforce. The long-term vision and growth of your organization gets clouded by the fires you have to fight today.

The goal of construction technology is to help general contractors find a balance between short-term problems and long-term vision. This allows you to solve your day-to-day issues efficiently while also being able to stick to the core long-term mission of your company. 

Let’s use workforce planning, a process that historically has been very reactive, as an example. Bridgit Bench, our workforce management platform, was built to help contractors create that long and short-term balance. You can stay agile in the short-term by easily making real-time adjustments to changes in your projects and workforce. You can also forecast in varying time increments to help you establish a long-term strategy and vision for your workforce.

Short-term planning is easier and more efficient, and long-term planning provides a map and directions for where you want your company to go. The tools you evaluate should provide insight into both of these categories so you can make decisions without sacrificing any quality in the work you do. 

3. General contractors really care about people

Construction is for people by people. It isn’t just about erecting a building on a plot of soil. You are building places that people will live and work in. You’re literally setting the foundation for your communities. 

The best GC’s I’ve spoken with stress that people are the most important resource in the industry. They want project stakeholders to be satisfied. They want their workforce to develop their skills, be proud of the work they accomplish, and be proud of the organization they accomplished it with. 

With that being said the construction industry has reached a crossroads. According to Forbes, About 40% of the current U.S construction workforce is set to retire in the next decade and the current labor shortage is expected to expand in the next two years. Radical change is coming to the industry and it’s directly tied to its most important resource: people. 

General contractors will have to match the change in the industry landscape in new and creative ways. More and more GCs are addressing diversity and inclusion in order to attract employees. They’re also taking the time to prioritize and formalize day-to-day skill training and long-term career development to make sure that their people are better able to fulfill their career aspirations. 

Additionally, GCs understand that implementing new technologies to improve processes is going to attract younger talent who’s already savvy enough to pick up and use new software and job-site tools with ease. 

At Bridgit, we understand that people are the cornerstone of the construction industry and we understand the transformation the industry will have to undergo in the coming years. That’s why we created a tool that can help you take a people-first approach to your workforce planning.

What is a people-first approach? 

It’s being able to use your workforce data to create better project teams, utilize your people efficiently, and proactively schedule in a way that supports your projects rather than hinders them. 

Taking a people-first approach can help you prioritize and foster the collaboration needed to resolve the complex challenges you face while you plan for your future growth. To learn more about workforce planning, visit our blog. To learn more about Bridgit Bench, take a quick tour below. We’re always open to discuss your goals, your challenges, and how Bridgit can help.

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Nemanja Simic

Nem is a content writer at Bridgit. He started his career in business development, where he spoke to contractors daily, providing him with a deep understanding of the problems around workforce planning in the construction industry. Using this insight, Nem developed an approach to provide digestible, data-backed advice to help contractors get the most out of their workforce strategies.

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