How do you invest in innovation when you’re a small electrical contractor just trying to keep up with the day-in, day-out flow of your business? This is the question we’re pondering after attending the NECA National Convention last week in Seattle, WA.
The 3-day event was attended by hundreds of electrical contractors from all over the country ranging from family-owned operations with less than 10 employees, to regional and national contractors with thousands of workers.
As we talked with people, we learned that electrical contractors are facing many of the same issues the construction industry as a whole is looking to solve.
- An aging workforce
- Ownership changes
- Labor shortage
- Shrinking profits
So, what’s the point of pursuing technology innovation when you’re knee deep in other issues? Well, it starts by seeing innovation as a solution to your problems instead of simply another challenge.
Rhumbix COO and Co-founder, Drew DeWalt, delivered a 15-minute presentation on Sunday and Tuesday during the conference that started connecting the dots for how construction technology can support electrical contractors in their pursuit of higher margins and a more skilled, engaged workforce.
The presentation opened up some great conversations with contractors as to how they’re thinking about technology.
Don’t Confuse Reporting with Real-Time Data
Electrical contractors rely on Excel to create weekly productivity reports. Reports are necessary, but you shouldn’t expect them to make a big impact on your team’s productivity.
Because there are dozens of different factors that can impact productivity — especially when it comes to labor.
Instead of reports, electrical contractors need to be thinking about how to capture and combine qualitative AND quantitative data from the jobsite to improve project outcomes, and create a historical record of projects.
Field data must be accurate, timely, and standardized in order to drive better decisions. This sort of transformation is especially important for firms anticipating a generational transition, or change of ownership.
By implementing field collaboration tools, contractors can begin to capture and share the years of wisdom gained by their current workforce with new team members and get them up to speed quickly.
You Cannot Micromanage Productivity in Construction
Electrical contractors really resonated with the message that providing their foremen with tools to do their job better is the best way to make productivity improvements.
One way to achieve this is by giving foremen cell phones and other mobile devices to access the data themselves. When people talked about smartphones on jobsites as recent as three years ago, the response was generally negative. But today, we’re hearing much less resistance.
The reason for this shift is that contractors are now seeing, and experiencing first-hand the value of closing the communication loop between the field and the home office. Small improvements at the workface, fueled by better communications, add up to big impact on overall job productivity.
As Drew put it in his presentation, “You cannot micromanage productivity in construction. Instead, you have to empower and democratize information.”
Improving Morale is Essential to High Performing Teams
The real value of field technology is experienced when contractors see the impact it has on their teams.
Morale improves, problems are solved at the field level, and fewer issues are escalated to management. We’ve talked about the importance of morale before. As Drew put it, “Guys don’t get better with someone looking over their shoulder.” They get better when we equip them with tools that empower them to play an active role in solving productivity challenges.
This was the first year for NECA to allocate dedicated space on the show floor to construction technology solutions, but we don’t expect it to be the last. We’re looking forward to partnering with more electrical contractors—large and small—to push the limits of their productivity and prepare them for a bright future. No pun intended.