Who Are We Hiring?

Mark L. Johnson / October 2020

Wall and ceiling construction today is much like it was a few decades ago. The means and methods of our trade haven’t changed all that much.
    
Yes, building codes have evolved. Standards for construction have been revised. Today, we have lightweight wallboard and collated screws. But on the whole, construction processes remain largely the same. What’s different today is technology.
    
I’m learning a lot about technology as I do research for the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry’s next white paper. The paper, “Technology Impact on the Means and Methods of Wall and Ceiling Construction,” will be available later this year. Here are some gleanings.

Rising Barriers to Entry
Technology is raising the barrier to entry to wall and ceiling construction. In the past, it was easy to set up a subcontracting business. Get a truck, some carpenters, hangers and tapers, and you’re in business.
    
That’s not so easy to do anymore, says Travis Vap, CEO of South Valley Drywall in Colorado. Technology has raised the barrier to entry to the construction industry. Vap says this barrier to entry is growing.
    
Take data analytics. Data analytics involves measuring the performance of your crews and processes—comparing the actual put-in-place time frames and costs with company baseline figures. Given today’s tight profit margins on jobs, wall and ceiling firms need this kind of data to provide insights on how to run their projects more efficiently.
    
Yet, “some companies aren’t counting at all,” Vap says. AWCI polled the 83 individuals who attended the August webinar, “Technology on the Job Site: The Promise of Productivity.” Attendees were askedif their project management software include a mobile app for the job site. Sadly, 23% said they are “not currently using software.” Another 9% said they didn’t use any mobile jobsite apps. In all, one-third are out of the tech loop.
    
Of course, that’s just one poll, and these AWCI members wanted to learn more about using technology on the job site. Be that as it may, technology is advancing quickly, my research shows. Sizable amounts of venture capital are helping to spread technology investment through the construction industry. Construction firms that don’t start crunching numbers soon may not be around much longer. They’ll find it harder and harder to compete with firms that track their crew productivity rates. Sophisticated companies not only will use mobile apps, they’ll embed automatic actions into the apps that will make them more responsive. When material is running low, or an injury is reported on a job site, their systems will notify everyone—from the project managers to the safety director to all corner offices—with data that will show what led up to the event and how to avoid it the next time it occurs.
    
Yes, data analytics leads to resourceful evaluations and process revisions about the job site. It will mean better work quality and an increased bottom line—both wonderful things.

Technologists and Robots, Please Apply
Besides data analytics, wall and ceiling companies are investing in advanced layout systems and clash-detection software. Some firms use robots to power-drive fasteners into sheathing and cold-form steel framed panels. (Read about the robots when the “Technology Impact” report comes out.)
    
All of this points to the need to hire people with an affinity for technology. The good news is, young people entering the workforce have a lot of experience with tech. The more challenging news is, they also expect to use technology throughout their careers. So, be the firm that fulfills those expectations. Form a technology committee and start adapting. You’ll need to move past the “traditional” method of hiring project managers out of construction management schools. Instead, you’ll want to hire technologists.
    
Is that possible? Yes. And it’s happening now. AWCI member contracting firms are beginning to view themselves—and their new hires—as serious professionals and not as “construction workers.”
    
This adjusted view of hiring is important. It amounts to reforming your company’s identity. Remember, Amazon isn’t just a tech company; it’s a retailer. Airbnb isn’t just a tech company; it’s a vacation rental marketplace. Same with you. “ABC Drywall” isn’t just a construction firm; it’s a technology company too. And it needs to be. That’s what I’m hearing more and more as I continue with my research on technology.
    
How do you view your work? Your role? Your people? Time to craft an upgraded vision—a vision that will make your company stand out as different when hiring talent.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.