What can the AEC industry do to deal with a 650,000 worker deficit?

At some point prefabrication and modular construction processes will need to be relied upon to get projects done. If the industry is going to achieve the level of production that consumers are demanding, it is reaching the point where these processes are not optional. The days of considering industrialized construction as something “nice to have” are transitioning to the days of considering it a “must have.”

There is momentum behind prefabrication. Companies are finding the speed, quality and safety of these processes are more controllable with better results. More standardization is proving to help make construction more efficient.

Although it’s not a new movement, the transition to prefab and modular processes still seems to be starting slowly and in the early stages. Forward thinking industry watchers hope a large-scale transition will take less than a decade. In fact, there is already attention focused on how to improve those processes and their resulting efficiencies.

As pointed out by people active in the industry, it is not realistic to expect that everything that can be prefabricated should be prefabricated. The question still needs to be answered, “Is this a good choice for the project?” Projects need to be reviewed early to select the items within the scope that can be prefabricated to improve the success of the project.

Experts advise that companies learn how to focus on the components that can be prefabricated to improve the project’s success. The advice is to narrow the band of transition to prefab so not everything is brought in at once. Project by project the decision needs to be contemplated – what works best for the overall project. This focus can bring the greatest benefit. The criteria for decisions usually involve:

  • Labor availability
  • Budget
  • Quality
  • Schedule

Ultimately, the questions are not so much cost or schedule, but availability of local skilled labor that is the driving factor. With fewer people on a project, everyone needs to be more efficient.

As with most change inside and outside the industry, people need to accept those changes. Since, it’s human nature to resist change, there will always be friction when it comes to acceptance. That friction can manifest itself both internally and externally. The prefab and modular processes are very different than what people in the industry are used to: different contracting terms, planning, scheduling expectations and oversight.

At the same time, a knowledge transfer needs to take place between those with decades of experience and those who are new to the industry.

In addition, attitudes of owners vary. Some will require most of a project to involve prefab processes, others are less interested.

The expected experience, however, from either group is that a seamless transition can be made to prefab and modular processes. There needs to be convergence of what people are willing to spend with what they are willing to get.

Bridging the Gap podcast episode 186 with guest Matt Hardy "Facing the Worker Deficit Head On"
Bridging the Gap podcast episode 186 with guest Matt Hardy “Facing the Worker Deficit Head On”

Tune in to episode 186 of Bridging the Gap Podcast – recorded live during Advancing Prefab 2023 – to hear more about how prefab and modular processes can face the labor deficit head-on.


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