One of the major issues facing our industry today is the shortage of skilled labor in many markets across North America. If your company is among those struggling to get enough trades to your communities, what can you do to solve this problem?
The simple answer is to make the trade shortage someone else’s problem by creating an environment where available trades can operate more efficiently and profitably at your communities instead of at your competitors’. So, how do you do that?
On Monday, August 5th, 1999, our team set about to prove that better scheduling, proper supervision, smarter use of skilled craftsmen and on-time delivery of materials could dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to build a home. At 7AM that morning, we broke ground on a 2000 sq. ft. home. At 12:45PM on Friday, August 9th, we received our Certificate of Occupancy. In total, the home was completed in 44 hours, as we worked from 7AM to approximately 5PM each day.
Details of the project included:
- We held a morning-long planning meeting with all trades and suppliers a week before starting, where every step and minute of activity was calculated and committed to. We had a minute-by-minute schedule.
- The home was built with standard construction methodologies (no tricks), with the exception of using super-heated concrete to accelerate the curing of the footing, thus allowing us to pour the slab on this ranch home at 3:30PM on Day One. The home was stick-built using pre-assembled roof trusses.
- The home was not a basic home. It included tile floors, Corian countertops, a fireplace, tiled walls in the bathrooms, an irrigation system – even the mailbox was installed at the curb in time for the final inspection.
- Crew sizes were expanded significantly to accommodate the tight schedule. The home was completely framed and sheathed on Day Two. The roof was completed, windows installed and all rough mechanicals on Day Three. Insulation and sheetrock were installed on Day Four, cabinets were installed, with some mechanical finals being completed. Finally on Day Five, the home was painted, mechanical finals completed, driveway poured, irrigation and sod installed, all by noon.
- The municipality worked with us (they certainly had to) to complete necessary inspections throughout the week. The Building Inspector commented that he would likely never again do a Rough Electric inspection on Tuesday and an Electric Final inspection on Thursday!!
So, what did we learn? We learned that maximizing the crew sizes and the distinct role of each craftsman (i.e. the electricians divided their work among crew members – one installing outlet and switch boxes, one cutting wire to length, one fishing wire, etc.). The home was pre-wired in about 90 minutes, while other work was going on.
We figured out which crews could work simultaneously instead of devoting entire days to one trade, even when they could finish their work before lunch.
We learned that having all the materials readily at hand greatly sped the process. And we learned that having our Superintendent on the ground for every single minute of work on the home provided better coordination, troubleshooting, etc.
So, what’s the point of all this? Every day, trade owners assign their crews to work at numerous building sites in your market. I can guarantee that they send their crews to the job sites where the homes are ready for them to work, where the materials are on hand, where they can do their work productively and without interruption, and most important, where they can make the most profit.
Contrarily, they’ll go last to the job sites where the schedule is chronically inaccurate, where the homes aren’t ready, where they end up making “dry runs”, wasting time and losing money because the builder didn’t have the systems or mechanisms in place to ensure maximized productivity. They’ll go last to the job sites where the construction documents are incomplete, where the options they’re to install aren’t clearly designated, where the previous trade(s) left a mess and incomplete work. And perhaps most important, they’ll go last to the jobs where they know they won’t get paid in a timely fashion.
The secret to solving the trade shortage is to be the best builder to work for in your market. That’s a tall order, but is an iron-clad solution if you’re looking for one. Trade Partners make choices every day about which homes in which communities command their attention, and which are their priority (not yours!).
No, you don’t have to build homes in 4 ½ days, but if you can develop the scheduling rigor, material delivery processes and great supervision, you won’t have to worry about trades showing up. They’ll be lining up to work on your homes.
By the way, when we sold the home, they buyers had zero items on their walk-through list. You can not only build fast, you can build with high quality, with the right team, the right processes and the right trade partners.