A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Construction is Largely a Pre-Digital Industry

In one of his recent blogs, Seth Godin, author of Poke the Box, mentions that most of the organizations and institutions we know today such as education, our work places, and the medical profession are all “pre-digital”.  He says “pre-digital” means that the real impact of the digital age has not changed those institutions to date.  Pre-digital usually means too many folks doing too much work that is unnecessary or that can be done much faster in a digital context.  People working in pre-digital industries don’t have access to information in a readily available form, which usually means that they are “reinventing the wheel” every time they make you fill out the forms for your physical or for your taxes.

Construction is largely a “pre-digital” industry, and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way.  Sure, structural engineering is computerized and digitized by necessity.  So are mechanical, electrical and plumbing designs.  Architects have been using CAD since the late 1970s, and today many owners have required that all drawings for their projects be digitized.  LEED has driven change.  Even BIM is making inroads, but the possibilities for new techniques and new methods have just begun to hit the marketplace and the industry.

How many specialty subcontractors do you know who use BIM and who do their takeoffs and estimates digitally?  Not many.  I work closely with one firm who uses BIM on their specialty sub work and they are seen as early adapters.  How many times do you still see big rolls of construction drawings sitting on the estimator’s desk when a bid is being developed?  Pre-digital.

And, except for the heavy chemical and the oil and gas industries, the general construction jobsite is still pre-digital for sure.

A group of Houston construction industry leaders are working to raise the bar by creating a more sustainable workforce for the future.  The group is known as C3 – Construction Career Collaborative.  The C3 owners, contractors and sub contractors working on the task force are making great progress and are developing a model that can be used throughout the industry.  In some ways I am struck by how pre-digital some parts of the discussion are.

For example, one of the major hurdles to accomplishing the C3 goal of a workforce that is paid by the hour, safety trained and craft prepared for the jobsite is how to audit the job site to ensure compliance and to avoid wage theft and other violations.  One way to do that would be to have an identification card that each worker could swipe as they entered the jobsite.  That card would give the basic identity information and would link to a training database which would verify safety and craft training.  Once logged in, the owner and the contractor would be assured that everyone on the jobsite was legal, safety and craft trained and was, for payroll purposes, the person they claim to be.

During a recent conversation we were told that many jobsites still don’t have a check–in gate, that the general contractors don’t require an identification card for the subs on the jobsite, and that many times the workers on the site were brought there by a sub-sub or labor broker.  The sub-sub might have acquired his workers at one of the labor sites populated with recent immigrants from Latin America or Asia who may or may not be legal, trained or even known to the contractor running the jobsite.

The implications of this “simple” fix are enormous for the owners, contractors and workers.  The safety implications alone are enormous.  Perhaps it is time to fix this issue and move the construction industry out of the pre-digital age and into the digital one.


Anonymous's picture

If the C3 contractors REALLY want a workforce that is "a workforce that is paid by the hour, safety trained and craft prepared for the jobsite" with "a workforce that is paid by the hour, safety trained and craft prepared for the jobsite" all they have to do is GO UNION.

Union members all have union-issued identification cards (in many cases these are swipeable picture id cards) they are paid by the hour, are the product of union apprenticeship schools and they are definitely prepared for the jobsite.

You have to pay more for them - but you get what you pay for.

Anonymous's picture

A simple solution...not the best solution

Many of us who work in the construction industry choose to work in non-union companies BECAUSE they are non-union. And despite what unions would have you believe they are not necessarily trained or skilled; they just possess a union card.

I would rather broker my own deal with my employer and partner with my employer to advance my skills and position without an overpaid union rep standing in between that relationship.

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