Labor costs are the number one expense for most concrete contractors, especially union contractors. Since robots are not skilled enough to do manual labor or finish concrete, we must find a solution to lower our labor costs.
Aside from the obvious solution of utilizing more machinery, these 5 solutions will get the most out of your laborers:
- Systems of Operation
Our family owned concrete company has been in business for over 30 years and we have been able to maintain competitive pricing without compromising our quality. The reason why we have been so successful is directly tied to the quality of our laborers and finishers.
However, our guys are now at the retirement age and we are bringing new, young laborers into our family. The breed of men leaving the workforce right now carried with them an unbelievable work ethic, ability to overcome adversity, and adaptability to learn new skills.
All of our guys who started with us as laborers, learned quickly, the skills necessary to become finishers.
Sadly, this breed of men is found far and few between in the new age of laborers coming into the workforce.
The laborers we have brought in are young, athletic, and have a desire to make enough money to survive. With no disrespect, the new generation of laborers and finishers are there to do the most they need to, in order to not get fired. It is hard to find men who show up early and leave late to a construction site.
I don’t blame them, it’s not easy or fun work.
With the lack of enthusiasm, you are dealing with a slower paced laborer. Meaning the tasks are going to take longer to complete. You cannot substitute a younger generation worker with that of an older generation bull who would take on the workload of 3 guys.
Our only solutions are to find the diamond in the rough of a laborer and hold onto to them for dear life, or to create a plan of action that will maximize our laborers outputs. What I am about to propose is a completely scalable plan that can work for a team of 4 or a team of 40.
These are the 5 Critical Components to reducing labor costs with the new age laborer.
Before your team ever steps foot on a job site you should have a clear and detailed plan of attack. play every scenario forward and backward in your mind. Identify potential risk areas, forecast potential delays, and create a solution for those delays before they even arise.
People work faster and with less error when they have have a clear target and detailed instructions on how to reach that target. We want our guys to think for themselves and not over think at the same time. They are there to execute a plan efficiently and in a timely manner.
When you are not prepared and too many questions come up in the field, you waste precious time. Also, when our guys have to slow down to ask questions, they break momentum. Momentum is vastly important to productivity because it puts your men in the “zone” for working and they are able to work harder and longer when they are know exactly what to do and how to do it.
Another benefit to intense preparation for a project is the fact that you will have all of the answers before the problem arises. When you solve a problem in a relaxed, focused environment, you come up with a proper solution. In the field, when you have 5 guys standing around waiting for your answer and each minute that goes by is money out of your pocket, you make a rushed decision and is most likely not the optimal decision.
2. Systems of Operation (assembly line)
Henry Ford wanted to build cars that his employees could afford and the only way he was able to make that possible was his creation of the assembly line.
The benefit of having an assembly line is that each person has a very specific job and they do that job over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. There is less error and increased speed with the use of an assembly line.
This approach to construction is mostly useful for bigger teams covering longer stretches of road or curb, however, the same principles can be applied to a smaller team of 4 let’s say.
Our team of 4 can rip out, frame, prep, and pour an average two car driveway in 10 hours. We can do this because each person on the team has a specific job during each phase and everyone knows exactly what is expected of them in each moment.
We have not always been like this and go through a shift when we bring new members into the game.
3. Hiring and Teaching Competency
Knowledge is power and in the case of building a competent laboring team, knowledge is profit.
Think of the things in your life you do best. Do you sit there and spend hours thinking about what you are doing, or do you act in a flow? When you are well acclimated with a task, you do not waste time figuring out what to do, you just do.
We want our laborers to work in a state of flow, therefore, we must make sure they are confident and educated.
There are two ways to create a competent team.
First, you can hire a team who have a ton of experience, work well together, and understand their roles to the core.
Hiring a team may be a little more difficult to do because they most likely already work for someone else or have their own business.
There is great opportunity with finding an already successful team. When you find a successful team you can partner with them and take over all of the management side of things, or if you have the means, you can buy them out and let them continue to run as they do.
A local asphalt company had been in business for 20 years and have built a successful labor team, however, the owner made a couple of unfortunate investment moves that left them in a vulnerable position.
They found an opportunity with a local investor for a partnership that not only kept the team together and working as normal, but they were also to grow exponentially in a short period of time.
Hiring or buying an already competent team is a legitimate option to bring competency to your team.
Second, train apprentices to execute the way you desire.
You have a very specific knowledge base and have a certain standard of how you want your job completed.
To keep your standards of operations in tact, it is easier to train from the ground up, than to retrain a team that already has their way of doing something.
Training will take longer than hiring for obvious reasons, but it may be your best option if you do not have the money to hire a full team.
Apprentices usually make less per hour than someone with years of experience, and you can mold their mind to think the way you do so you have full confidence they will execute they way you want.
You now have prepared your project, created a system of operation, created a competent team, now you must hammer in the action to create team that can move quickly.
Speed comes with time and experience.
We are able to make decisions on the fly when we understand the full consequences of our actions and are confident with the potential risks and outcomes of our actions.
Also, in an assembly line, the more acclimated your team becomes with their role, the more they are able to perfect what they do and become experts at their task.
As your team become experts in their roles, they inherently move quicker through tasks, completing the project in less time, which in turn decreases labor cost for you.
5. Execution is Everything
This whole article is meaningless unless you and your team are able to execute.
If you follow through with the first four steps you are well on your way to reducing labor costs. So let’s execute and put these factors to work.
To promote execution, reward good work, and reprimand poor performance. Good laborers are a rare breed, and they literally break their back to get the job done, we must reward them for their work.
Motivation comes when people know their work is being appreciated and they are being equally rewarded for what they put out.
If your team is not executing the plan you put into place or they are not moving at the speed necessary, it is time to have conversations. Communicate with your team and they will tell you what is going wrong.
Your team will help you find solutions and they will give advice on how to make things better. Keep in mind they want their lives to be as easy as possible and they are in the trenches every day so they know the job the best.
Listen to your team. value their work, and reward successful execution and you will see your labor costs plummet.
How do you reduce your labor costs? Comment below.