Construction has changed a lot in 10 years. So why hasn’t the workforce planning process?

Construction has changed a lot in 10 years. So why hasn’t the workforce planning process?

Bridgit was founded 10 years ago. A construction technology company dedicated, at its core, to solving real problems in the industry. We’ve spoken to hundreds of contractors since then and have seen the desire for Design-Build (DB) contractors increase, and with the influx of money coming into infrastructure over the next few years, it’s expected to continue growing.

Everyone in construction is familiar with the commonly used Design-Bid-Build (DBB). An RFP goes out and it takes months to choose a design firm. The firm then spends months coming up with a design, only to have the owner spend months looking for a contractor. It could take years to break ground. Then, once construction is underway, you find out the design had flaws, so now the contractor starts churning out change orders. Suddenly the project takes two years more than expected and it’s over budget.

Today, it’s common to see RFPs specifically asking for firms with Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) or Design-Build (DB) experience. What’s shocking isn’t the change. It’s how fast it happened. 

What changed?

The answer is time and money. Integrated delivery models offer amazing benefits. For instance, DB has an integrated workflow – architects, engineers, and contractors work under one umbrella, reducing the friction associated with having separate entities. 

DB projects were also found to have been delivered 102% faster than traditional DBB projects. It doesn’t stop there. On a per-square-foot basis, DB projects are expected to cost less than 0.3% compared to DBB projects, and cost growth is 3.8% lower with DB projects versus DBB projects. 

The results are so good that DB is expected to make up 47% of all construction spending in the US by 2025. The same survey highlighted that 75% of owners had a “very good” or “excellent” experience on their Design-Build projects. 

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“Ok, but what does this have to do with workforce planning?”

Here’s why it matters. People are at the heart of project delivery. It sounds obvious, but it makes all the difference. 

Design-Build and IPD methods are incredibly dependent on collaboration and efficiency. Most sources on the topic will say that all you need to do to get started is adapt your project management approach, but they’re missing a crucial component of the change. To pull it off, you need alignment from everyone across the organization. 

Do business development and marketing teams have the right information to bid on the right projects? Does HR know who they need to hire and when? If a contractor is selling cost savings and reduced risk as perks of IPD and Design-Build, they shouldn’t be scrambling last minute to hire someone who may not be fully qualified to deliver the project. 

The real risk in project delivery isn’t the project management approach. It is, and always has been, in the people responsible for the delivery.

According to the DBIA, “Design-build is intended to be a highly collaborative, fully integrated process that is built on trust, mutual respect, teamwork, innovation and

creative problem-solving.” 

How does a contractor build a system of trust, teamwork, and innovation when half the organization is working out of siloed spreadsheets and disconnected tools?

There’s a lot at stake. The construction industry is growing in both scope and volume. We’re seeing change across every fundamental pillar of construction management. A labor shortage, a flood of new technology, new build models, and a dynamic transfer of risk between owners and builders are just a few of the changes taking place today. 

We’re also re-learning old, forgotten lessons. The Surfside disaster taught us that contractors can be held liable for project failures decades after they’ve finished construction. Owners might be willing to take on more risk, but that doesn’t mean contractors are free from it. Amidst a tidal wave of change, having a firm foundation of support is vital to weathering the storm. That foundation is the workforce. 

There has never been a greater need for a people-first approach than today

Ten years ago, using spreadsheets to manage workforce planning may have worked, but they couldn’t provide live, accurate information on things like team productivity, or the cost of unproductive labor. Since contractors were mostly using manual processes, there was no pressure to deliver optimized cost savings in this category because the data was housed the same way across the whole industry. No one was using it to create a competitive advantage, it was just the industry standard.

Not to say what contractors were doing was wrong, but they were often in a situation where a design firm created a building design that the contractor wasn’t consulted on. With owners leaning towards IPD and Design-Build, they’re expecting the results these models promise to deliver. 

That means that contractors need to start thinking more strategically. Working to just cover projects in the short term will result in falling behind. If project timelines are going to be shorter, more projects will need to be bid on and managed. With more projects, systems need to be in place that provide long-term visibility into the workforce. 

Forecasting for the long term accomplishes two things. One is seeing the project pipeline from a larger perspective: upcoming awarded projects, what projects are being bid on, and who’s available to fill those roles at the time. This is going to help identify what kind of projects should be bid on and when. 

Being able to speak with marketing or business development teams and say “I have a few people with strong residential experience coming off their projects in October. Can we find something?” That’s going to make a tremendous difference in their ability to find and win the right project on time. 

The second benefit is that HR teams know exactly where the gaps are months in advance. Being able to tell them “I have a project in 6 months that needs a Project Executive, and we don’t have anyone internally to fill that. Can we find someone?”. With the skilled labor shortage today, the HR team is going to appreciate any leeway they get to find the right people.

The advantage of long-term strategic thinking is going to help an organization double down on where it’s winning, as well as collaborate with other teams during that incremental improvement process. This new people-first process is the foundation on which contractors can successfully build integrated delivery models. 

Rethinking the future of workforce planning

When we first started talking to contractors 10 years ago, we realized the desire to think longer term was already there, but the spreadsheets just couldn’t handle it. 

At Bridgit, we aim to help adapt workforce planning to support the new era of project delivery. We want contractors to become masters of workforce management and, in turn, leverage it as a competitive advantage.

With accurate, automated workforce planning, contractors can see who their people are, what they’re doing, and where they’ll be next. With visibility into their workforce, they can get over the problem of always having to cover the next 60 days. Using that as a foundation, contractors can start planning for the long term and being proactive with their people.

Long-term strategies also include project pursuits and pencilling in teams before a bid is won to see the pipeline impact. That’s critical in helping client-facing teams figure out how to sell a bid. Including pursuits also gives insight into the workforce demands down the pipeline, which can be compared to the supply of people. This could give HR a 4-6 month runway to find someone. That time helps find someone that’s actually qualified for the role and a good fit for the company. 

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You might be saying, “I can do this in Excel.” But can you really? Can you have multiple people working on an Excel document at the same time? Can you truly say the teams around you have the time and information necessary to do their jobs well? We’ve spoken to hundreds of contractors. Time and time again, we’ve heard a resounding “NO” to those questions.

As the industry fundamentally changes its method of project delivery it’s important that the pace of this change is matched with new ways to manage and execute the multitude of factors in a project itself. This means finding innovative ways to get richer data, encouraging collaboration between team members, and using data insights to inform strategic long-term decisions. A construction company is made up of people and the tools they use. The process of innovating at the pace of new project delivery methods should begin by maximizing the effectiveness of both of those pillars.

Nemanja Simic

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 that aims to provide digestible, data-backed advice to help contractors get the most out of their workforce strategies.

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