‘Workforce visibility’ has become a buzzword since the start of the pandemic in 2020. It’s not a new idea, but with so many businesses shifting to a mobile-first or hybrid workforce, it’s become critical to maintaining a competitive edge. While workforce visibility can be a challenge, the response from the tech industry has helped most industries adapt to this new mobile-first (or hybrid) working environment.
Construction is a different beast altogether.
While workforce visibility may be a new challenge for most office-based industries, it’s likely a challenge that you’ve been dealing with for years. COVID-19 may have made ‘workforce visibility’ a buzzword in the popular business lexicon, but certainly not in construction.
Why are challenges with workforce visibility nothing new to construction? Well, construction projects represent some of the most complex problems that need to be solved today. There are hundreds of moving parts, intricate designs, multiple subcontractors to manage, and in some cases these projects need to be built hours away from civilization. Maintaining visibility of a workforce that’s scattered across multiple locations and working different schedules can be extremely challenging, especially during a skilled labor shortage that’s only been amplified by the pandemic and, most recently, nation-wide vaccine mandates.
In this article, I want to get down to the nitty gritty of workforce visibility, what it means for the construction industry, and a few tips to help improve the visibility of your workforce.
What is workforce visibility for construction?
Research from the Aberdeen Group defines workforce visibility as “the ability to define the talent required by business needs in terms of skills, behaviors, and attributes.”
I don’t disagree with this definition, and I think that forecasting the skills required to meet business needs is certainly a challenge for contractors, but I do think it falls a little short if referring to the construction industry alone.
Workforce visibility in construction, if I were to take a stab at an official definition, would look something like this:
“Workforce visibility in construction is the ability to effectively and efficiently adapt to an ever-changing project pipeline with insight into team schedules, locations, skills, behaviors, attributes, certifications, and project needs into the coming months/years”.
I’d also like to dispel that workforce visibility is primarily a function of human resources. Providing visibility into workforce data and upcoming project needs will certainly help HR develop more A players and avoid last minute hiring, but you should also be using this data to build stronger project teams, create balanced workloads, and understand which bids can (or should) be pursued more aggressively.
Why workforce visibility matters in construction
Like all service-based industries, your people are the lifeblood of the construction industry. Unlike most service-based industries, however, being successful in construction requires a contractor’s people to be scattered across multiple projects, in different locations, working different schedules. These are people that also have different skills, certifications, and are at different points in their careers.
Because of how fluid construction projects can become, maintaining all of this data is very tedious and often results in information being inaccurate, stale, and siloed off from the rest of the company.
Almost every department that makes up a general contractor can be using workforce data to inform their work. For example:
- Human Resources can look at upcoming project needs to create recruitment strategies and use work experience and certifications to develop more A-players.
- Pre-construction teams can be pencilling in project teams to make sure everyone is available for the projects ahead.
- Sales have a window into workforce planning to make sure you’re never turning down projects due to a lack of availability.
- Execs and leadership have a big picture view of how and where their people are being utilized.
This list goes on and on.
Problems with workforce visibility for construction today
For operations teams in construction, knowing the specific day-to-day operations of multiple project teams, and the progress and quality of their work is likely a recognizable challenge. Especially when most of the tools being used to capture and analyze workforce data today don’t make it any easier.
For the most part, a combination of spreadsheets, paper, and software tools built in-house make up the bulk of the workforce planning process in construction. These tools leave a lot of room for error that results in a hesitation to share information. This creates a trickle down effect when it comes to workforce visibility where only one or two people have access to an organization’s workforce data. Important information then quickly falls victim to the ‘telephone effect’, which leads to HR needing to hire in the eleventh hour and significantly reduces the amount of time to properly evaluate potential candidates.
The telephone effect isn’t directly anyone’s fault. It’s not like someone is neglecting to share information. It’s like I mentioned earlier, construction is a different beast. Trying to maintain workforce data in a series of spreadsheets, for some operations managers, can eat up an entire day’s worth of time every week. Add to that trying to manage project allocations, while accurately forecasting project needs into the coming months, and suddenly the picture becomes pretty clear – intelligent workforce planning is near impossible without the right tools for the job.
To stay competitive in this increasingly digitized era (which will only accelerate in 2022 and onwards), you can no longer be relying on dated operational tools. Rapid technological advancements in construction fueled by even more rapid adoption by key industry players, has the potential to separate the industry into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. It’s vital you don’t get left behind.
Leading contractors like Rogers O’Brien, DeAngelis Diamond, and JPI have even brought on Chief Innovation Officers to help identify and solve operational deficiencies with new methods of problem solving and more rapid adoption of best-in-class construction technologies.
Tools like Bridgit Bench, our intelligent workforce planning solution, can help provide accurate visibility across your entire workforce whether you’re a small contractor working out of a single office or a national contractor with offices in multiple regions.
For example, ENR #48 Ryan Companies is using Bridgit Bench to centralize their workforce planning across 14 offices. Read more about their journey.
How to improve workforce visibility in construction
1. Centralize your workforce data
When project teams are spread across multiple locations, a centralized workforce management system can help to dramatically improve operational effectiveness and efficiency. Having a single window into your workforce information helps to:
- Understand the impact of project delays and changes
- Better control labor costs
- Quickly identify and remedy any issues
- Make informed decisions regarding project bids and project teams
Centralizing your workforce planning process can also help to standardize how your data is captured and stored. Multiple spreadsheets and disparate systems make standardization a nightmare. Centralized workforce management helps you be more flexible and adaptive with your workforce strategy by providing both granular and ‘big picture’ analysis. Simply put, it’s easier to problem solve when you can visualize the impact every decision makes.
2. Use specialized software
You may have picked up on this, but I’m not a giant fan of spreadsheets or in-house systems built within them. Construction is quickly evolving and so is the technology. It wasn’t long ago that spreadsheets changed the game when it came to storing and tracking data, but times have changed. Going from paper to a one-size-fits-all digital approach was the first step, and a big one at that. But the next step is moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that is collaborative, accessible, and specific to your business and industry.
At Bridgit, we want to help contractors take that next step and revolutionize how they plan their workforce. We look at workforce planning in three stages:
- Maintaining data – These are contractors that have only one or two people trying to maintain a series of workforce planning spreadsheets (or paper). The data is potentially inaccurate, workforce visibility is minimal, and forecasting or long-term planning is a challenge to say the least.
- Managing effectively – These are contractors with a system in place to accurately capture and track their workforce data. Their data is more reliable, more people have access, and they’re able to plan further ahead, giving their HR teams more time to recruit to meet project needs.
- Mastering the process – These are contractors that now have their full project pipeline and respective allocations visible to everyone that needs it to inform their work. They include project pursuits and opportunities to better predict the impact each will have, build stronger project teams based on strengths and skills, and identify trends that will help them stay ahead of project needs, recruitment, and potentially problematic projects.
3. Integrate your software stack
Naturally, business leaders want their people pulling together in the same direction and using the same information to inform their work. Your software needs to be doing the same thing. Disparate systems can lead to miscommunications and hours of duplicate, manual data entry.
The impact on workforce visibility can also be significant. When accurate information is automatically flowing between your systems, it means no one is falling through the cracks or being underutilized.
For example, a contractor hires a new skilled worker to fill project needs. Because their HRIS system is integrated with their workforce planning system, this new employee is automatically added along with all their information, including skills and certifications. With this information, operations can decide which project would be best to start their new team member, which can then be communicated to them through the workforce planning system.
One of our ongoing goals at Bridgit is to create a seamless workforce planning experience. For contractors, that means not having their data siloed off in their respective tools. Last year, we launched over 16 integrations with leading construction software. Some of our notable integrations include Procore, Autodesk Build, BIM 360, and BuildingConnected. Read about all of our integration offerings.
4. Share your workforce data
Collaborating on your workforce strategy is nearly impossible if you aren’t using the right tool for the job. At Bridgit, we recognize that nearly every department’s success is dependent on your people and having access to accurate information. You should aim to foster more meaningful discussions and enable cross-functional collaboration.
While the majority of our customers transitioned from a single-user approach to workforce planning, here’s a glimpse at the teams now using Bridgit Bench to inform their work:
- Operations teams are using workforce data and analytics to build stronger project teams based on experience and skills and allocate resources more effectively with utilization oversight.
- Executive teams now have a holistic view of their workforce strategy and project pipeline. They can identify any gaps in the pipeline. Tracking project pursuits provides a better understanding of where they win, lose, and which projects are most profitable.
- Preconstruction teams are planning roles and allocations for future projects. This benefits the estimating team by better understanding the available team members and their experience. This helps to put forward more enticing bids and avoid late crew build up.
- Human resources teams are looking at project demand and comparing it against their workforce capacity. By identifying pinch points where demand exceeds supply HR teams can create informed recruitment strategies and reduce last minute hiring.
The benefits of improving workforce visibility in construction
Your workforce directly impacts every aspect of your organization: retention, client relations and satisfaction, operational effectiveness, reputation, etc. With the right system in place and a unified view of your entire workforce, here are a few of the benefits you may experience:
- Better workforce planning – Accurate visibility of your teams’ skills, experience, and certifications combined with accurate forecasting of project needs provides you the opportunity to plan in a more intelligent, meaningful way. Having access to historical data also helps to staff more effectively for future projects without the headache of consolidating data from multiple sources.
- Effective scheduling – With better visibility into your people, their locations, and their current and upcoming project assignments, you’re better equipped to allocate your team based on business needs instead of slotting in the next available person.
For example, if you’re looking to improve client retention, you can allocate their favourite people to their project. If you’re looking to improve employee retention, you can assemble project teams that have a history of working well together, or prioritize allocating workers with shorter commute times. Workforce visibility helps you be more strategic with your people to improve your bottom line.
- Better decision making – Accurate workforce data can be used to make informed decisions with your people and track the impact of those decisions. Having visibility of allocation start and end dates, project locations, utilization rates, skills and experience, and upcoming project needs makes identifying trends and data analysis much easier.
- Workforce retention – When your entire team is accounted for and able to share information with management, it’s inevitable that they will be more engaged in their work and your company. According to Gallup, if offered a 20% raise with another company, only 37% of engaged workers would even consider leaving, almost 20% less than their unengaged counterparts.
Improving workforce visibility can also help to identify team members that are ready to move up the company ladder, or ready to try new experiences to develop their careers. Showing your team that you’re engaged with their career development can help to significantly reduce employee turnover, and makes your company more attractive to potential candidates. The next generation of construction professionals want to know they have a future at your company.
Bridgit Bench is the tool of choice for improving workforce visibility
Bridgit Bench will give you levels of visibility and insights that simply cannot be achieved using basic spreadsheets or manual processes. The best part about it is that the more you use it, the more intelligent it gets. The more data you put into it, the better the insights you’ll get out of it.
These insights give a better understanding of your business, employee, and customer needs. To learn more about Bridgit Bench, you can take a quick tour, or book a demo with one of our experts.