With billions of dollars expected to flow into infrastructure upgrades over the next five years because of the newly passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), otherwise known as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” the construction industry is poised for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild critical infrastructure (Photo 1). While anticipated opportunities abound, the industry is also facing significant challenges — from a lack of skilled labor and limited product availability to long lead times and inflation — resulting in many projects not being completed on time. Now more than ever, the “old way of doing things” won’t cut it.
Forward-thinking electrical contractors need to re-evaluate how to drive efficiencies in project execution to effectively capitalize on this opportunity. Industry resources, including NECA’s Manual of Labor Units and Dr. Perry Daneshgari’s book, Agile Construction for the Electrical Contractor, are valuable tools, but the truth is success today hinges more and more on planning, adaptability, and ingenuity.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” While some may say the construction industry has been slow to embrace change, without a strategic project plan in place to effectively address the design, material, and deployment planning needs associated with the complex jobs tied to the infrastructure bill, today’s electrical contractors risk being left behind their competitors. To effectively implement a project execution plan, they must shift their mindset, shed an attachment to the old way of doing things, and carefully consider how to implement innovative thinking and project delivery models in every project phase. Here are some ways to make that happen.
Previously, when it came to electrical contractors, most relied on a 50% drawing and 50% “we can figure it out later” mentality. Revolutionary building innovation modeling (BIM) tools are quickly becoming the standard of operations, empowering contracting professionals to more efficiently and collaboratively plan, design, and construct in a multi-dimensional way. Taking a digital-first approach to the design process is instrumental in helping reduce waste and eliminate inefficiencies associated with clashes and reworking. By relying on innovative product design alternatives from the start, strategic electrical contractors are set up for long-term success.
In the past, products have historically been readily available with limited price variance. Given the increasing complexities associated with long lead times and inflation today (read “Caught Between Supply and Demand” for more information), contractors must be more strategic in product planning.
To help electrical contractors ensure their workers have what they need, when they need it, at the exact point of installation, consider mapping in key partners at project kick-off meetings so material management options can be investigated. For example, kitting can help ensure you receive the right product (shipped to the right place at the right time) pre-packaged for installation, all of which saves on labor costs. Additional considerations include:
- Preassembly and off-site construction: Minimize variable labor costs with solutions to maximize on-site field labor.
- Job trailers: Turnkey mobile workspace and secure material storage system with replenishment to maximize efficiency and improve profitability (Photo 2).
- Job carts:Pre-stocked rolling stock carts with customized inventory, allowing inventory management to the point of installation, saving workers time from scrambling for the resources they need and lowering costs.
Although a legacy knowledge approach to labor has been acceptable in the past with growing cost and risk concerns, a strategic deployment plan must be applied to effectively map material to labor by project phase. According to NECA, upward of 31% of a labor unit is considered non-productive, underscoring the need to improve productivity and reduce non-productive labor to boost the bottom line. Project deployment services and prefabrication, modular, and off-site feasibility options will empower contractors to optimize project execution. Identifying the relevant options for a project early can significantly increase the chances of enhancing your workforce and reducing costs.
Contractors must carefully balance the promise of the IIJA with the pressure associated with jobs of this magnitude. Take the time to plan and effectively leverage innovative solutions available to strategically manage and execute projects. A simple shift in mindset and proactive approach will ensure you can capitalize on one of the largest reallocations of capital this century has ever seen.
Steve Crocker is the senior vice president and general manager of U.S. construction for Wesco International. Steve has been with Wesco for more than 30 years, holding progressive leadership roles in sales and operations in both Canada and the United States.