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One good thing that came with the cold temperatures and snow is that it allowed some of Robinson’s supervisors extra time for training. QA/QC Manager Ross Moldenhauer and QA/QC Assistant Manager Brandon McIntosh were on hand last week to provide surveying training using a Robotic Total Station (RTS). The training covered the basics of the RTS and the functions and tools that can be utilized while using the surveying equipment. The supervisors were then presented with a mock project to lay out/survey using the RTS.

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Construction work is in high demand. Projects are growing in size and complexity and the need for experienced people who work hands-on to bring the projects to life is at an all-time high. However, according to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), approximately 70 percent of construction firms report that they are currently having difficulty finding qualified construction workers even though there appears to be plenty of workers out there looking for jobs. So what happened to the skilled labor? Where did it go?

With construction spending up, the demand for skilled craftspeople is expected to continue to grow. CNBC reported earlier this year that construction spending was up to a record $1 trillion last November and that construction firms are adding jobs, but workers are leaving the industry, or aging out, but that is not the only reason behind the lack of skilled workers. According to Robinson President Paul Findlay, “more and more individuals are entering retirement age and greater than one-fifth of the construction workforce is currently 55 years or older. It’s this, coupled with fewer high school students expressing an interest in skilled work, that has created a shortage of skilled craftspeople.” Over the past few decades, the tendency has been to steer high school graduates to four-year colleges and white-collar careers, creating a whole generation of younger workers who are no longer even considering construction as a possible career option, despite the obvious need and respectable rate of pay. In the AGC report release, Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist, stated, “Construction pay is now almost 10 percent higher than the private-sector average. Nevertheless, contractors report increasing difficulty filling many types of hourly craft and salaried openings.”

It is obvious the need for skilled labor is abundant, but it is becoming harder to hire and recruit qualified workers. So how do we fill the gap?

According to Robinson Human Resources Manager Tara Gremminger, filling the gap takes a concentrated effort. “One of our greatest challenges is attracting young people and skilled workers. High schools are stressing attending college over a career in the trades, but a college education is not for everyone.” Tara feels encouraging young students to look at career options in construction is the first step. “Many high school students are not ready or don’t want to go to a four-year college, but with the ‘college for all’ mentality that is prevalent in high schools nowadays, it is hard to convince them that they do not necessarily need a four-year degree to be successful in life. There is a multitude of rewarding career opportunities available in the industry that do not require a college education.”

Tara believes that the second step to overcoming this challenge is for more construction companies to offer workforce development programs. “The problem isn’t that there are no jobs. There is a mismatch between job requirements and workers’ skills. You do need a basic level of training to enter the construction industry and with the shortage of technically skilled workers in the US, we are now starting to see more companies offer workforce development programs, or trade programs with paid training and apprenticeship.” Robinson Construction offers both.

“We’ve recently started an apprenticeship program in which we hire unskilled workers and train them on the job to develop the skills that we need from our workforce,” said Tara. In some instances, businesses are teaming up to train workers. Robinson works closely with Ranken Technical College on a two-year internship program for welding. According to Tara, “the internship program with Ranken provides the student with several weeks of classroom learning, followed by several weeks of a paid internship at Robinson Construction. The students are being paid while they learn and taking away the skills needed to have a long and rewarding career in the construction industry. It is a win-win situation.” To further their outreach, Robinson also has also formed relationships with the area vocational schools.

“No matter how you look at it, the construction industry offers honorable, rewarding careers for a variety of technical skill sets,” said Tara. “We just need to let more students know about these programs and encourage them to choose the skilled training path.” .

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We often discuss the role of technology in the construction industry and how we can integrate it into our own work program. Today the options are plentiful, as we have evolved from drafting tables and drawings produced from the hands of designers to laser scanning, 3D modeling, and BIM. We have advanced from estimating with paper copies of drawings and pads of paper to on-screen takeoff software that populates our estimating programs. We must also consider how technology can improve our productivity and efficiency while working to plan and execute our projects.

We recently entered our third year utilizing Procore Construction OS as the software platform to plan, manage, and execute our projects. Procore is a cloud-based solution that we utilize for financial controls, risk management, safety, and quality management across our entire project portfolio. Procore allows real time collaboration among the entire project team from contract execution until the project delivery to the customer.

As we continue to grow, Procore helps us communicate project related information more efficiently and effectively across the country. Interface with the software is web or app based meaning that you can access it from any workstation with an internet connection or via Procore’s mobile app. Today we are using leading indicators to actively report, monitor, and eliminate unsafe acts and behaviors using a hand held device. Our field users can identify an issue, document it so we can see trends across projects, and proactively influence the behaviors and outcomes on our project sites.

Our field leadership, subcontract partners, and clients have real time access to RFIs, submittals, specifications, and drawings the moment they are created and approved. As the status of these items changes, they can be updated instantly. Field leaders can document and communicate project information immediately via photographs, the daily log, inspections, observations, and punch list tools while identifying any event that may affect the schedule or financial position of the project.

Our customers have also seen many benefits from the switch to Procore as well. Access to project information provides increased transparency to our customers and improves the communication timeline and approval process. Customers have real time access to project drawings, documents, and photos created during the project lifecycle. This ensures alignment with the project objectives even from remote locations.

Change is a common topic of conversation within Robinson Construction. Many people balk at change, but when change improves your communication process, risk management practices, and efficiency, you are improving the daily experience of your entire project team, which in turn improves the sustainability of the company. Sustainability - our employees having jobs with Robinson long into the future - is our main goal. This shift in technology has had a positive direct impact on our business, allowing us to continue to deliver quality projects for our customers and retain our talented staff of project management professionals while also attracting new talent to Robinson Construction.

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