In this blog, our director and head of construction, Ally Robin, talks about how the construction sector can overcome the productivity gap that has plagued it for years. Read on to find out how the industry can help itself…

Construction companies are more guilty than most of over-promising and under-delivering.

There are many factors contributing to this issue, but poor productivity levels are a main culprit. Low efficiency and underproductivity has troubled the sector for years, with the majority of construction projects failing to finish on time.

Poor productivity: what’s the cause?

There is no single reason for poor productivity – a lot of factors contribute to this industry-wide problem.

Project leaders and planners often under-estimate the time needed to complete a project, causing inevitable time management issues down the line. It is far better to over-estimate the time needed to complete a build and finish earlier than anticipated than be too optimistic about timing and finishing late.

This under-estimation of the time required might come from being too ambitious. Pressure to complete a project in the shortest timespan to win tenders results from a huge amount of competition in the sector. In order to win projects margins are squeezed – this includes time and money – and can put real strain on the contractor who wins the bid.

Prepare for the unknown 

Unforeseen issues, such as accidents and delays, also come into play – they are inevitable but can be tackled if you’ve given yourself enough time to fix them. Savvy project managers will build in contingency time to allow space for the ‘known unknowns’, such as late deliveries and employee illness, that can impact on the delivery of a construction project to deadline.

Competition also influences the way projects are planned and delivered. If a construction firm is competing for a job by offering the best price to the contractor, they can end up rushing through the project and cutting corners, opting for cheaper materials and using unskilled labour to keep their costs down and margins high.

Choosing price over quality 

Projects run into difficulties when additional time has to be spent on putting right the wrongs of sub-par work carried out by sub-standard contractors. This holds up aspects of a project as sourcing trusted suppliers can take time, as well as allowing time for the repair work to be carried out – this can have a domino effect across the entire site.

The widespread skills shortage is another key factor in this productivity gap – it is caused by issues such as lack of investment in training and ongoing learning and a significant gender imbalance in our industry.

An unmotivated workforce 

A general lack of motivation across the workforce is having a huge impact on outputs. This can be put down to a lack of investment in individual workers as well as selecting the wrong people for the job – often too many of those candidates who aren’t suited to the industry are the only choices. Construction workers are driven by the same motivations as they are in any sector – by rewarding, well-paid working opportunities that offer recognition and clear career paths.

While it’s not always possible to reward the workforce with financial benefits, other solutions such as offering more autonomy, flexibility and variation can be key motivators.

Construction companies can look towards offering variations on flexitime and compressed hours to offer workers a better work-life balance. While site-specific roles and small business models may not lend themselves well to flexible working, other initiatives such as the provision of training to acquire more skills, adopt new techniques and use new tools and technologies can be very effective in inspiring industry workers and can lead to improvements in efficiency.

How the industry can change

To truly address the productivity issue in construction and start driving change across the industry, we need to start shattering stereotypes and changing mindsets to attract a different kind of worker.

Offering fair pay, improved status, training opportunities, and working conditions to all will lead to a significant change in the way projects are delivered. We will see an increase in staff retention, a better skilled workforce, more homes being built than ever before, and a higher standard of work – all within a better infrastructure overall.

We are experts in recruiting trustworthy construction teams for projects – whether you’re looking for a new team or a new role for yourself, get in touch. We’d love to help.