Construction productivity rates have barely increased over the last two decades. Why's this the case and what needs to be done to give it a necessary boost?
Despite vast advancements in technology and mindset, global construction productivity growth has averaged one percent a year over the past 20 years. That's barely over one-third of the average annual increase experienced by the total world economy. Considering the construction sector accounts for over 11 percent of the world's GDP, the figure represents extremely poor performance in the industry. Something must be done to provide the industry with a much needed boost, especially as it works through a period of severe fluctuation.
To determine the most effective solutions, we must start by analysing the issues responsible for such minuscule growth. It's a major task – there are so many factors to consider that to look at every one would take far too long – but there are three that stand out:
According to estimates, more than 35 percent of all construction projects will undergo a major change after work is already underway. Naturally, such changes tend to result in additional work, but very rarely are project deadlines extended accordingly. Project managers tend towards thinking that this will improve construction productivity, but the opposite is true.
Costs are blown out, resulting in tools being put down while negotiations take place. Once work is resumed and additional materials sourced, the shortened timeframes makes second shift work, overtime, overcrowding and similar factors that stifle productivity a necessity.
Low worker morale can result from a multitude of issues, from overtime, to poor safety management and mental ill-health. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't matter how thoroughly a project is developed on paper if the needs of workers are not met.
Not all productivity problems are a result of decisions made by people associated with construction projects. Construction productivity can just as quickly be impacted by regulatory complexities.
According to management consulting company McKinsey and Company, "Indeed, non-technical risks, including political risks related to regulation and transparency, are often cited as proximate root causes behind poor outcomes, even more so than technical factors."
It is with these three factors in mind that we propose two solutions that can kickstart growth without the need for construction companies to reinvent the wheel. These solutions are broad, but they must be in order to be applicable to the many sectors of the industry.
A lack of investment in technology is a common issue on- and off-site. Ironically, the industry's aversion from risk is the exact thing causing business leaders to hesitate in the adoption of tech designed specifically to eradicate risk and guesswork. Building information modelling, digital twinning and cloud-based project management apps are just some of the tools forming the backbone of successful construction companies.
What is the right solution for your company depends on your area of work. Whatever it is, now is the time to start researching and reaching out to potential suppliers for more information.
When we asked Decode Group's Sam El Rihani how the company had defied industry trends by expanding in a period of significant downturn, he put it down to the people. Overtime is sometimes a necessity. Fatigue is commonplace in such a demanding environment. Mental health issues aren't always preventable.
It's not these blows to worker morale that have the most significant impact on construction productivity – it's how the organisation handles them. Toolbox talks, team development programs and mental health initiatives are just some of the ways organisations strive to make sure workers aren't overburdened, or that if they are, they know where to turn for help and support. The construction industry still has a bad reputation for breeding a macho culture that makes workers feel like they can't talk about their challenges. It's time to turn that around.
Image: Quang Nguyen Vinh, via Pexels.com