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Counter Move


You can’t read a trade publication without coming across an analysis of the labor shortage in the construction industry. While the economy has bounced back from the 2008 recession, the pool of skilled laborers has been slow to grow. That, combined with the retiring baby boomer generation, has resulted in a shortage of workers.

Many companies, including MMC Contractors, support initiatives to encourage youth to consider a career in construction. In addition to focusing on introducing more workers to the industry, there are other approaches to help alleviate some of the issues related to manpower shortages. Utilizing efficiencies on jobsites and incorporating lean construction ideas can help streamline projects.

Lean Construction
Lean construction is a “way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value.”* While there are many benefits of utilizing lean construction principles on projects, it is also a process that can help combat the issues related to manpower shortages. At MMC Contractors, lean construction principles are taken to heart. We utilize several practices, including prefabrication, preconstruction, BIM, and careful selection of projects to ensure concerns with manpower don’t impact schedules or costs.


In the project pre-planning phase, there are identifiable opportunities where areas of piping, plumbing, ductwork, and equipment skids can be done separately in fabrication shops. This grants the team the opportunity to begin working simultaneously with other construction. Prefabrication also allows us to work in a controlled environment — ensuring we manage waste appropriately and increases productivity by lowering the crew size needed on a jobsite.

 “Prefabrication allows us the ability to work faster and smarter when working on a project, which really maximizes the value for our clients,” said Dennis Eden, vice president and general manager of the MMC Contractors Nebraska office. “Our team can troubleshoot and resolve issues better when they don’t have to worry about the external factors of being on the actual jobsite. It’s also a lot safer for our workers — we control the environment in the fabrication shop.”
For someone not currently utilizing prefabrication on projects, there might be reservation around trying something new, especially when it comes to processes that have been around for some time. However, the proof is in the pudding. Most people just need to see it to believe it.

“Prefabrication is an excellent example of an area where the benefits can be high if you get all stakeholders to buy in to a new process,” said Chris Pesek, vice president at JE Dunn. “Usually after doing it once, the benefits are obvious and the efficiencies increase, but getting them to embrace a new way of doing things the first time is key.”

When there are limited resources on a project, it makes it even more important to reduce unnecessary time spent working on revisions. Preconstruction services bring value to a project from a number of different avenues.

  • Greater ownership and responsibility on project. Involving partners at the upfront ensures better buy-in by the larger group.
  • Less duplication of efforts. Engaging a trade partner early in the design process can lead to an integrated BIM team with an outcome of a one-pass model.
  • Fewer redesigns. Early trade-partner involvement will track the project and better plan to hit budget goals with a one-time design.

Choose Carefully and Take Notes

One of the most straightforward ways of combating the manpower shortage is simply making sure you choose the right projects to pursue. Honestly evaluate your manpower situation and then look for jobs where your team can be efficient. This concept applies to both contractors and owners. Owners should pick the contractors that are best suited for the project, not necessarily the lowest price, because in a manpower shortage cycle, the risk is much greater in selecting just based on lowest initial cost.

Sharing insights gained from job-to-job also aids in making sure mistakes aren’t repeated and efficiencies are shared from team-to-team.

“Our project teams are incentivized to improve those productions and eliminate wasteful movements by embracing lean principles and culture,” said Pesek. “This culture generates ‘small wins’ and ‘lessons learned’ that are shared locally and nationally through a number of different communication channels.”

Moving Forward
While it’s important to maintain an emphasis on building relationships with young people and encouraging them to consider a career in construction, it’s reassuring that there are other opportunities to alleviate some of the strain from the manpower shortage. After all, utilizing lean principles on projects is better for the contractor, the owner, and everyone’s bottom line.