How the construction industry can combat labour shortages

How the construction industry can combat labour shortages

The construction industry across the globe is experiencing unprecedented labour and raw material shortages, and Australia is no exception. The combined impact of the COVID-19 impact restricting international movement of skilled workers, an aging population, and volume of construction projects is having a damaging affect on the ability to deliver. Add to this the demand for accelerated timing on certain projects such as the Mickleham Quarantine Centre in Victoria, the industry needs to shift gears, and rapidly.

The impact of density limits and social distancing in construction

In recent weeks, we have seen the debilitating effect the New South Wales construction industry has experienced as a result of density limits and social distancing. There are reports of a potential $2bn blow to the economy as builders attempt to manage the impact of the restrictions. Off-site prefabrication helps to minimise the effect of these restrictions by avoiding the need for multiple services needing to have site access concurrently. It’s where the old saying of “divide and conquer” really applies; divide out the skills and services where viable that will allow you to conquer project timelines and deliver the best outcomes.

“Regardless of how it is implemented, prefabricated construction is about gaining efficiency and minimizing costs, and its popularity has only increased in response to industrywide trends.”

Source: Prefab Solutions: Combatting the Labor Shortage, Accelerating Timelines and Improving Safety

Why are we experiencing construction labour shortages in Australia?

Several factors have led to the construction industry’s current and forecast labour shortages. These include a decrease in apprenticeship rates, an increase in aged population, restricted migration of workers, and the supply and demand factor.

“The Australian Construction Industry is now facing skills shortages in all trades. As an industry focused on the skill of its workforce, there is now concern the Australian standard in quality, workmanship, and productivity will inhibit both at national and international level.”

Source: Concerns for Skills Shortages in the 21st Century: A Review into the Construction Industry, Australia

It’s no secret that skilled labour is in hot demand. With an extensive list of construction projects both current and planned, we are facing two significant problems. Firstly, there is not enough skilled workers to complete jobs within the tight timeframes. Secondly, the potential of quality control issues when work is completed by those who lack experience. In both instances, prefabrication can help.

  • By assembling modular and prefabricated components using labour off-site there is less need for tradespeople to be on-site throughout the course of the project.
  • Leveraging a controlled factory environment with high quality assurance practices, experienced managers and supervisors to oversee work helps avoid quality issues.

“Quality control is much easier and better in a factory environment than on a construction site which has a big impact on rework. Reducing or eliminating rework significantly improves construction schedules, potentially by up to several months. There is often also the risk of defects not being identified onsite until many months or years later when it is far harder and more expensive to rectify.”

Source: Modular construction: From projects to products, McKinsey June 2019

The impact of construction project contract local hire requirements

Not only is the construction industry facing skill shortages amidst an infrastructure boom and pandemic restrictions, but there is also the added requirement to use local hires. This can present several issues, as certain trades become such a precious commodity that they can inflate prices to suit their wishes. Once again, prefabrication and modular building services can alleviate this issue. By leveraging off-site prefabrication, some of the need for local hire requirements can be minimised.

Leveraging prefabrication & modular to accelerate construction projects

Prefabrication in the construction industry is far from new. Fundamentally, prefabrication and modular building services allows labour and work that would usually be carried out on-site are moved into an off-site environment. Whilst the benefits associated with doing this is extensive, the most critical during these times of COVID-19 is the ability to reduce the impact of density restrictions and social distancing requirements.

By manufacturing vertical risers, modular wiring, corridor modules, plant skids and other essential building service elements, traffic on-site is dramatically reduced. The use of purpose built, controlled factory working conditions is also proven to be far more productive.

Our extensive data collected over the last 20+ years shows one week within the prefabrication factory is the equivalent to three weeks on site with reduced labour.

Deliver projects on time with Prefabrication and Modular Building Services

As the volume of construction projects increases, there is also the conflict of shortened project timelines and profit margin impact due to raw material shortages. Finding that ‘winning mix’ of skills, timing and materials is becoming more and more elusive. Once again, this leads to the ‘no brainer’ scenario of leveraging prefabricated and modular building services to enable the construction industry on delivering projects on time.

Vertical risers carrying mechanical, electrical and plumbing services can be manufactured off-site, minimising their time on-site for installation. Modular wiring systems can be prepared and delivered to site for ‘just in time’ installation, minimising storage requirements and reducing on-site storage, inventory and labour requirements.

Prefabricated and modular building service components avoids labour downtime, maximising productivity, as all jobs are project managed. Detailed planning ensures skilled labour is utilised in the most productive way, with all materials on hand as needed.

Conclusion

Whilst Australia, and the world, are experiencing skilled labour shortages across the construction industry, projects can still be delivered on time by leveraging the most effective methodologies. Prefabricated and modular building services can be manufactured off-site and delivered to site, minimising the impact of density limits whilst also obtaining the highest productivity from the labour on hand.

For more information, contact EVO-MEP on 03 7036 1518

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