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Old School // New School

Merging Experience with Technology

While there is a significant focus on bringing more technology on to jobsites to increase efficiency, decrease mistakes, and improve communication, it takes a lot of work and evaluation to determine when technology is the right fit for a project. And most importantly, if the field team is open and willing to see the value in the technology and embrace it. The right use of technology on the jobsite is making construction better and more efficient, and the key is ensuring that technology is both the right fit for the project and the team executing the work.

The need to build the right team – with a mix of traditional methods and technological advances – is essential to the success of each project. The ideal team, combined with a well thought out approach to introducing new technology, can have a significant impact.

What technology brings to the table

When Bob Vargas, General Foreman at MMC Contractors National in Kansas City, joined the construction industry 23 years ago, his job function was performed in a much different fashion. However, over the years, he’s been open to adopting new technology on the jobsite because he’s always been interested in finding new and better ways of getting the job done.

“I like to challenge myself,” said Vargas. “As a foreman, I have the ability to have a larger impact on implementing some of these technology changes on the jobsite and I’ve always found it interesting in exploring the different ways of doing things. It definitely pushes us out of our comfort zone though.”

Pushing the limits on employee comfort levels, especially as it relates to technology, can be hard sometimes. For the generation just entering the workforce, the use of technology is a no-brainer. For those on the jobsite who have been in the trade for years, this transition can be more challenging to navigate.

One important element to keep in mind is that not everyone on the jobsite needs to be an expert. According to Trent Nichols, National VDC Director at JE Dunn, the key is making sure the field team knows how to best utilize the technology, without expecting them to know everything about it. That expert knowledge can come from other teammates in more specialized roles.

Balancing technology with experience

Some teammates who more readily embrace technology can also run the risk of relying too heavily on the use of it. That’s why making sure the right mix of teammates in place is key to ensuring a successful project.

“The last thing you want is to have work at a standstill when the use of technology fails you and you don’t know how to do the work the ‘old school’ way,” said Vargas. “It’s important to pair those who excel on the tech side with those who came up doing it the traditional way. They are able to lean on each other to get the job done.”

Building that relationship among all members can have a very positive impact on the effectiveness and communication of a field team, Nichols says. “When you pair the right people together, there’s a real opportunity to build trust. Each person is able to bring something important to the table and often times we find those pairs requesting additional opportunities to work with each other. We are always aiming for that kind of teamwork on projects.”

Assigning specialized roles helps facilitate the success of technology on a jobsite. “Construction technology often requires role-based utilization,” said Nichols. “We don’t need everyone to be an expert. They just need to know how to best use the tech for their job purpose. Then they can rely on that specialist to really maximize the benefit of that technology.”

Vargas pays close attention to identify strengths and weaknesses of his team and strategically works to ensure everyone is playing up their strengths. There’s a significant focus on assigning roles to employees based on where they excel.

“We are a lot smarter about how we are building our people,” he said. “They might start in one area, but we make sure to transition them into other roles so they can get a good mix of background knowledge. Being well-rounded helps them better understand the big picture, plus, we’re able to identify where they can add the most value based on their strengths.”

Rolling out new technology

The goal is to roll out new technology at the onset of a project as it can be more difficult for a team to pick up something new midway through. However, with jobs in varying levels of completion across the company, Nichols notes that it doesn’t always work out like that.

“We don’t look to technology to solve a singular issue on some of our jobsites,” he said. “We only embrace new software and systems that we can apply at the enterprise level.”

One way to ease the transition of a new technology is by identifying projects to try the tech first. This helps the team determine potential roadblocks or hurdles. Those can be addressed at that smaller scale before that technology gets rolled out at the national level.

Another key element of ensuring the use of new tech is a success is paying close attention to keeping the team trained and up-to-speed. Those area specialists are key for this – they can help the team stay on top of updates and ensure they maintain consistent use of the technology.

It’s easy to see how jobsite technology has made a difference in communication, sharing of information, and efficiency, but much of the return on investment can sometimes be difficult to quantify. While it may seem somewhat subjective, JE Dunn and MMC Contractors have witnessed better productivity, higher quality of work, and less rework as a result of rolling out more valuable technology to the jobsites.

It may require a shift outside of comfort zones for many employees, but the return is worth it.