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Do This in 2023

In October, Dodge Construction Network, in partnership with Procore Technologies, released a study on how economic, workforce and technology trends are transforming the specialty contractors’ marketplace. In extrapolating the results, I conclude that as an industry we have some technology work to do.


The report, “Top Business Issues for Specialty Contractors,” reveals that 99% of specialty contractors experience profit margin erosion during construction, with one third of that profit loss tied to unplanned and unbillable rework. Some profit margin erosion also seems related to these companies using antiquated job tracking systems. Yes, 39% of specialty contractors still use paper forms and spreadsheets to manage their businesses, the study found.


The Dodge/Procore study surveyed concrete, electrical, mechanical, plumbing and steel contractors in Australia/New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The report I read didn’t define a “steel contractor,” but let’s assume it’s like an AWCI commercial metal framing contractor member.


What should you do?

1. Adopt automation technology.

Over 90% of specialty contractors surveyed report negative impacts due to the current skilled labor shortage. They say, on average, that 33% of their current workforces are likely to retire in the next five years.


To adapt, specialty contractors are stepping up their technology adoption. More say they are using offsite construction methods, which in our industry would include panelization and prefabrication processes.


Some study respondents say their firms plan to adopt job-site automation systems. In walls and ceilings, such systems would include the Building Information Modeling–driven construction robot from Dusty Robotics and the FrameR field layout projector from Mechasys.


Other BIM-centered automated systems include Arkitech, FrameCAD and FrameMax steel roll-forming machines, which give contractors the ability to produce custom metal studs and track in their own factories.


Another automation idea is Hyperframe, an interior wall framing system that delivers custom steel studs to the job site. The studs are cut to size based a project BIM. Installers snap Hyperframe studs together, one wearing a Microsoft HoloLens 2 mixed-reality headset to do that work.

2. Invest in safety technologies.

Additional findings from the Dodge/Procore study shed light on why safety incidents occur. For steel contractors, the most frequently mentioned reason for safety incidents is “behavior/practices of other trades on the project” (44%). The next most frequently mentioned reason: “distractions or inattention” on the job (38%).


Next in line: “lack of sufficient personal protective equipment” (37%). Then, “unsafe conditions on the job site tolerated by the GC” (36%), “insufficient training of newer workers” (also 36%) and, finally, “overtime” (31% of steel contractor respondents).


What are specialty contractors doing about safety? Many are either planning the adoption of or already using technologies for improved safety. Here the data was provided by company size—large companies with greater than $50 million in revenue, and small/medium firms doing less than $50 million annually. The safety solutions include cameras and drones (82% of large specialty contractors; 65% of small/medium firms); sensors (81% of large firms; 59% of small/medium firms); wearables (77% of large firms; 69% of small/medium firms) and image analysis systems that use artificial intelligence or machine learning (82% of large firms; 70% of small/medium firms).


Interestingly, 60% of U.S. companies cited “distractions” as the main cause of safety incidents. So, U.S. construction sites seem to have a lot of clutter and trade overlap getting in the way of safe working conditions.

3. Benchmark your business.

Clearly, specialty trade contractors like AWCI member wall and ceiling firms are the lifeblood of the project delivery process. But we need to pull our own weight on the job to run profitable and safe projects. So, I suggest you use the Dodge/Procore study to benchmark your own business dynamics.


If you take the study as a snapshot of where we are, then we have some work to do. Wall and ceiling contractors need to get a seat at the table earlier in project timelines to reduce the number of reworks that come up. As an industry, we need to upgrade our project management systems to help deliver more to the bottom line. Finally, we need to invest in technology to help with the skilled labor shortage and jobsite safety. Now is the time to act.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the walls and ceilings industry. He can be reached via

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