John Huggett, who was recently promoted to vice president of central operations at The Boldt Co., said the firm is casting a wide net for construction candidates during Careers in Construction month.
Huggett said his company is pulling talent from a diverse pool in all subsets of construction, while the company leverages technology to make service more efficient. Boldt is trying methods like planning construction in a virtual space and performing prefabrication off-site to be more efficient during a labor shortage.
“The need for labor in the construction industry is significant,” Huggett said, and the demand for construction services is growing while the number of people to perform those services lags. While the industry needs more workers, he said there is a wild field of opportunities for those who join and work inside it.
In the latest Associated General Contractors of America analysis, construction jobs increased by 19,000 in September, yet contractors reported long lead times and developers have been affected by delays. Wages had the largest increase in 40 years, analysts added.
The construction industry also needs to diversify its labor pool in the face of a male-dominated industry, Huggett said. One way to combat that is through youth apprenticeship programs and working with partners like the Department of Workforce Development to show job candidates the opportunities with a construction career.
Huggett was promoted in September and has worked in the industry for 26 years. He leads the company’s Central Operations offices in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, and is a board member of the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin.
The Daily Reporter: Why is it important to increase public awareness of construction careers?
John Huggett: The need for labor in the construction industry is significant. Our industry is a dynamic industry which provides significant opportunities for craft workers in the field and support roles who work outside of the field. The opportunities in our industry are significant and demand for construction services has increased, but the supply of labor hasn’t increased at the same rate.
We’re almost at the same number of people in our industry as we had in 2007 just prior to the Great Recession, yet total construction spending in the country went almost up by 50 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As an industry, we’re focusing on how to be more efficient with the labor we have and be more productive. We must think creatively about how we deliver construction services and leverage technology like we never have before.
The Daily Reporter: What does efficiency and more productivity out of labor look like?
Huggett: There are a couple main ways you can increase efficiency and productivity. For example, the traditional pre-planning so you can efficiently sequence your work and look at opportunities for prefabrication off-site and modularization. Boldt has looked at ways to accelerate prefabrication and modularization as an answer to the declining labor force. We also question traditional delivery practices for how we put construction in place.
We use technology to determine how we can best sequence our work and modularize it, taking lessons from our friends in the manufacturing industry and building parts of a project off-site. The future is bright in this area, and owners’ desire to continue to be efficient with their capital is going to continue to push the industry in this area.
The Daily Reporter: How will your company reach out to potential candidates for work and keep skilled craft workers employed?
Huggett: This has been an ongoing challenge for many years. The consensus from industry boards to the education system is we need to start early. We need to increase awareness of opportunities for boys and girls to enter the construction industry. The awareness starts at local career fairs, where students enter their career exploration phase in middle school. Whether it’s individuals who are more mechanically hands-on who want to build the work environment or those who want to be involved in technology and use building information modeling (BIM) and virtual reality to plan work, or accounting professionals and safety professionals. It’s important for all of us in the construction industry to communicate what those opportunities are and getting to guidance counselors and those who go to middle school career fairs and show them it’s a vibrant industry and requires a diverse talent pool.
The Daily Reporter: Can you talk more about using virtual reality to make construction services more efficient?
Huggett: Virtual reality and other visualization tools allow us to build the project virtually to make sure we don’t have conflicts as we go to build a building. So, when you think about prefabricating work off-site and bringing it on-site to install, you can only do it with high levels of BIM, or other three-dimensional tools to show how the completed project looks in a virtual environment. As it goes to fabrication and materials are shipped onto the site, BIM gives you a high confidence the materials are going to fit and not conflict with anything else.
The precursor to modularization and prefabrication is technology and being able to draw these projects in a virtual space before fabrication is what’s allowing advancements in our industry.