There’s recently been a lot of talk about how the construction industry can boost productivity and a new study by TSheets sheds light on why this is a concern.
An analysis of anonymous timesheet data from more than 12,000 US construction companies reveals they are currently adding fewer jobs than in 2016, and their employees are working longer hours than at any point in the past three years.
So far in 2017, TSheets’ data shows that construction workers are working, on average, 39.6 hours a week. This is an increase of more than one hour per employee per week compared to 2015, when the average was 38.4 hours. In 2016, the average was 39.2 hours a week, per employee.
At the same time, TSheets’ data shows the workforce has expanded at a slower rate in 2017 than it did in 2016. Construction teams using TSheets to track employee time expanded by 1.52 percent, on average, last year compared to 1.15 percent between January and November of 2017.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the construction workforce grew by 1.66 percent this year between January and October and by 2.1 percent in 2016 — a similar trend. Nationally, according to BLS data, that’s equivalent to 113,000 new jobs in 2017 compared to 144,000 in 2016.
The number of employees working overtime, however, remains low. TSheets’ data shows that just 1 percent of the construction workforce currently works more than 40 hours a week, but when they do, these employees work, on average, an extra 9.6 hours. This means 69,000 construction workers across the US worked almost 50 hours this week.
Several initiatives have been set up to look at construction productivity rates and address labor shortages.
One analysis, by The Economist, found that construction productivity rates in the US are now half of what they were in the late 1960s, citing economic uncertainty as the root cause:
“The problem is not a lack of technology that enables capital to be substituted for labor — from the 3-D printing of buildings to robotic bulldozers and the like. The problem is that the industry is not incentivized to adopting this technology. The industry’s cyclicality means that investing in labor-saving machinery is risky because it results in higher fixed costs during downturns. Workers, in contrast, are easier to fire, enabling firms to survive during lean times.”
The Great Recession of 2008 is often blamed for the labor shortages the industry has seen since 2012, but this year, the effects have been more than economic. News outlets like USA Today and Fortune recently reported a lack of skilled workers is slowing the pace of recovery in Texas and Florida, where hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused an estimated $250 billion in damage.