Getting Around the Labor Shortage by Maximizing Efficiency

MONDAY, MAY 8, 2017

By Danny Carrillo, Graco Inc.

Labor shortage is an ongoing trend we are seeing across the board in the construction industry today. It’s not that there aren’t enough jobs; there are too many jobs and not enough skilled workers to fill them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the construction industry averaged 25,000 new jobs per month over 12 months between March 2015 and March 2016 — that’s 300,000 jobs added in one year! 

There is a steady stream of incoming jobs, but construction companies are struggling to hire for these open roles due to lack of a reliable and skilled workforce. Between the lingering effects of widespread recession layoffs — when many highly skilled workers were forced out of the industry and did not return after making career changes or retiring — and an insufficient focus on technical training in schools, the millennial gap across the construction industry is more apparent now than ever.

Impact of Labor Shortage

A lack of skilled labor can present an array of problems and negative impacts. If a job is not completed on time, running over will create additional construction costs — and frustrations from the customer. In addition, if a worker is not sufficiently trained, he or she is more vulnerable to injury on the job, which is not only dangerous for the employee but also can create a headache for construction companies.

There are ways of moving past the labor shortage that construction companies, builders and contractors can learn to implement. Although the training of young people in the industry is critical and must still be addressed, utilizing machinery in place of work traditionally done by hand is an optimal solution. Using pumps and machines can help make bigger projects less labor intensive, enabling companies to take on more jobs and, in turn, increasing profitability and efficiency. Utilizing best-in-class machinery can help produce quality work at a faster pace with the same or a smaller workforce. 

Advantages of Pumping versus Manual Labor

Increased Efficiency. Mortar pumps that can both mix and pump (water/cement-aggregate) across long distances or heights make it easier to complete more work in less time and with fewer people. Mortar pumps are also gaining popularity in other areas of construction, particularly the application of self-leveling underlayment (SLU). In SLU applications, pumps allow workers to move much faster, doubling the production with the same size crew or completing the same production with a smaller crew. Entire floors in high-rise buildings can be done in a single day — versus multiple days — allowing other trade crews to get back in and finish construction.

Less Potential for Injury. Switching to machinery reduces physical strain in a number of ways. For one, it dramatically decreases the labor involved in mixing and hauling heavy buckets of site mix up scaffolding or around construction sites. Crews using a pump can split the workload among several workers, including someone at ground level feeding the pump, someone applying the material and others focusing on finishing the material. Cutting down on lifting and the back-and-forth process results in reduced risk and fewer injuries. This is particularly relevant for stucco/EIFS workers who commonly work multiple stories above the ground.

Appeal to Younger Generations. Millennials today seem to be looking for ways to work more efficiently and are drawn to industries that utilize the latest technologies. Effectively using the latest machinery can help draw them back into the industry and fill the labor gap.

Easier Access. Pumps can be particularly useful for application in tricky situations and hard-to-reach areas. For example, bridge building and repair projects frequently use concrete molds as part of the construction process. Filling a mold by hand can sometimes mean pouring one bucket at a time through a small hole in the mold. Attaching a hose and pumping the material is much faster, simpler and wastes less material. Pumping material into difficult spots — such as overhead in manhole restorations — can reduce fatigue and increase efficiency.

Future Outlook

Industry experts expect a construction boom over the next several years, signaling an immediate need for more skilled labor. Investing in machinery is one way to reduce the impacts of the labor shortage on construction businesses, by maximizing efficiency and downsizing the needed workforce, if needed.

*Claims or positions expressed by sponsoring authors do not necessarily reflect the views of TPC, Durability + Design or its editors.


Danny Carrillo, Graco Inc.

Danny Carrillo is Western HPCF Demo Specialist for Graco AFTD. He has been a licensed contractor for 30 years, with direct experience pumping a wide variety of construction-related materials, including stucco, exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS), high-build coatings, SLU and fireproofing.