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Productivity and the Contractor

Paul Deffenbaugh, Editorial Director, Posted 06/01/2017

Paul DeffenbaughOver the last few months, I've heard at least a half a dozen people refer to research about the loss of productivity in the construction industry. When compared to other industries, construction has become less productive over the last few decades, and this has happened in spite of the massive improvements we have made in ease of installation of products and improved tools. On the job site, we can do a lot more with fewer people.

There's a lot of disagreement about why this is happening. Is the supply chain becoming less productive? Are buildings becoming more sophisticated and difficult to construct? Are workers taking longer to accomplish tasks? Are regulations slowing things down?

There is no research to definitively say what has caused the reduction in productivity, but I would hazard to guess it is a combination of all of those elements and more. I think we can all agree, though, that the adage, "they don't build like the used to," is wrong. We're constructing buildings that are more efficient, easier to operate, longer lasting and healthier than we ever have. This is to say that while we may be less productive, we are improving value. There are a lot of industries that can't make that same claim.

I know that you, like me, get just a little ticked off when I see research such as this about the industry to which I've decided to devote my career. My knee-jerk reaction is, "What do you mean, we're not more productive?"

Then, I think a bit longer, and realize there are some systemic issues in construction that other industries, such as manufacturing or retail, don't face. In our industry, every job site is a separate manufacturing plant designed to create a one-off product. The raw materials arrive on site on a schedule, and plant workers assemble them into the one and only product of its kind. The reality of construction is that by its very nature, it's hard to improve productivity.

Let's give our due to the contractors and the tools they now have, whether hand tools or technology tools, that make their jobs simpler and more efficient. The contractors are the pivot point of the construction process. Everything has to run through them to be completed and for that reason everyone in the industry, up and down the supply chain, puts their focus on contractors.

In this issue, we take a deep dive into the businesses of metal roofing contractors in our Metal Roofing Cost of Doing Business survey. We hope to lay down some benchmarks for performance in the industry and establish some clarity about who is doing the metal roofing work. Every year, we will complete another survey, and drive our knowledge even deeper. Our hope is that metal roofing contractors will be able to use this information to improve their businesses, make themselves more effective and-potentially-improve the productivity of our little segment of the industry. 

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