Invest in Equipment to Invest in Employees
Historically, the construction industry has adopted technology more slowly than other industries, said Alex Berg during a recent webinar. He’s the CEO of Cratos Equipment, maker of electric skid steers and wheelbarrows, headquartered in Pompano Beach, Florida. For example, the use of vacuum lifting systems has been slow to reach acceptance. “They’ve been around a long time, but we’re only just now starting to see huge growth in the construction industry,” he said.
However, added Jeff Keeling, sales and marketing manager at demolition machine manufacturer Brokk, Monroe, Washington, the market embraces technology more now than it did in the past. “The way people see it now is how technology keeps the job site going,” he said. “Although equipment can break down or require parts, for the most part, it doesn’t get sick, it comes to work, and it works at the same speed all day long.”
Randy Hayes, vice president of business development at Vacuworx, Tulsa, Oklahoma, has witnessed the value of technology to speed up operations firsthand. “We’ve had contractors who have taken 4×4 slabs 6 inches thick and removed 47 sections in less than one hour by saw cutting and vacuum lifting them,” he said. “With the workforce being what it is today, it’s a requirement to gain those efficiencies now.”
Everyone knows the construction industry at large is facing a workforce shortage. What may come as a surprise is the degree to which technology can assist in maximizing the efficiency of your workers, while also reducing turnover and minimizing safety incidents. During a recent webinar presented by Cratos, Berg, Hayes and Keeley shared their insights on how contractors can invest in equipment to invest in their employees.
“Having the right products, equipment and technology can increase your efficiency without changing much about the process,” Berg said. “Instead of doing two projects with 10 people, you can do five projects with those same 10 people.”
Find the right tech for your team
Keeling recommended starting the process by reviewing your last few jobs and imagining how they would have changed with various tools on the market today. “It’s a matter of finding what technology fits on your jobsite that you can take advantage of,” he said. Not only is it a matter of machinery, but also of which attachments can be used on each piece of machinery, Keeling added. “A lot of times people buy a Brokk for the hammer, but it’s so much more than that.”
Hayes added it’s important to remember not only can one machine be used for multiple applications, but that one attachment may be used on multiple machines. “This offers different opportunities for idle equipment,” he said.
And Berg cautioned against the common construction industry mistake of pushing a machine too hard. “Sometimes, a machine may not be right for the job,” he said.
It’s also important to realize that new technology may create new bottlenecks. For example, if you’re demolishing more material, you’re going to have more material to clean up. “That may lead you to invest in another machine,” Keeling said, to resolve the new bottleneck. Ultimately, he said, this sort of forward-thinking mindset could lead to an eight-person crew being divided into two four-person crews that can do twice the number of jobs.
Minimize turnover with tech
“Skilled workers are hard to find,” Keeling said. “You want to do what you can to keep them.” Technology can be a big part of that.
“If people are constantly performing tasks that leave them exhausted at the end of the day, day after day, that reduces the longevity of that person’s working career,” Berg said. “If they’re exhausted and have to move into another role, now you have to train someone else. That really affects your turnover rate.” He stressed the importance of equipping people with the tools they need to succeed—otherwise, they may move on to another company or another career entirely.
Providing the right tools enhances a worker’s performance and work career, improving their overall happiness and what they bring to your organization, Berg explained. “That’s huge.”
Train to operate with ease
Although providing machinery that is easy to operate makes it easier for skilled and unskilled workers alike to learn a new piece of machinery, training is integral to success. “You need to make sure everyone jumping on the product has some training to understand its capabilities, do’s and don’ts, and how to maintain it,” Hayes said.
Each of the manufacturers offers a variety of training options, from on-site training and online troubleshooting to Facetime calls and mechanic’s schools. All cautioned the importance of following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedules.
Keeling said that even if a piece of machinery is simple to learn, he doesn’t recommend putting a new person on your equipment each day. “You want someone who will take ownership of that piece of equipment,” he said. “When they realize it can reduce the amount of work they have to do physically, they’re going to want to take care of it so they don’t have to go back to using a 90-pound jackhammer.”
Safety IS efficient and cost-effective
Keeling recalls a potential customer who decided to wait to buy a $150,000 piece of machinery he’d been looking at. “Then, he ended up with a shoulder injury,” Keeling said. “He was self-insured and ended up paying three times what the machine cost for that injury.”
Each of the panelists explained his company’s philosophies in wanting employees to return home safely at the end of the day. For Vacuworx, this takes the form of its equipment being operated by wireless remote to keep people out of harm’s way and reduce the types of injuries that can happen in lifting operations.
“People often look at the price and not the big picture,” Hayes added. “One worker’s comp case will more than pay for some of these machines.”