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How The Labor Shortage Is Reinventing Construction And Design Concepts

Labor shortages are significantly impacting the construction industry and its ability to deliver projects on time. Firms are finding ways to work around these shortages to make the best of things. Contractors, designers, consultants and developers discussed the labor shortage and other issues impacting construction and design in San Francisco last week.

BarkerBlue CEO and Bisnow event moderator Gene Klein along with Lendlease program manager of Timber and Innovations Jeff Morrow, Panoramic Interests director of development Zac Shore, Sun Light & Power president and CEO Gary Gerber, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff managing director Sarah Kuchera, Hines senior managing director Cameron Falconer and TEAMWRKX president John Aiassa

During a Bisnow event at Hines’ 101 California St, BarkerBlue CEO and event moderator Gene Klein along with Lendlease program manager of timber and innovations Jeff Morrow, Panoramic Interests director of development Zac Shore, Sun Light & Power president and CEO Gary Gerber, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff managing director Sarah Kuchera, Hines senior managing director Cameron Falconer and TEAMWRKX president John Aiassa told a 400-person crowd about how they are working around the labor shortage through innovations and collaboration.

Too Much Work, Not Enough Labor

How The Labor Shortage Is Reinventing Construction And Design Concepts

TEAMWRKX president John Aiassa said he’s having to turn away projects because of the labor shortage.

“We’re actually saying no to some projects, and they keep coming back begging to continue the project,” Aiassa said. “It’s a difficult thing to deal with and a good thing to deal with as well.”

Aiassa said he’s looking for quality people and paying them what they are worth because the work requires it. Leaner teams are working longer hours, but being productive.

Aiassa said his firm's success has come from creating a family environment. His team is also a mix of well-educated college graduates and high school graduates. Those who do not have as much education as engineers and other professionals start out on the bottom and work their way to the top and become very loyal to TEAMWRKX, he said.

Hines senior managing director Cameron Falconer

Hines senior managing director Cameron Falconer said bringing folks onto the team early helps keep projects moving, and getting commitment from construction teams to make sure the building is getting done reduces delays on projects.

Falconer said the industry needs to have more dedicated employees who know what’s coming and who can anticipate new technologies, especially with construction taking years to complete. One way his team is anticipating the future is through creating more flexible spaces. He said his team has been building above-ground parking throughout the country, which can be converted into office space if the parking is no longer needed.

Innovations To Reduce Strain On Labor Force

Lendlease program manager, timber and innovations Jeff Morrow (above with Spinitar business development manager Melissa Banks)

Lendlease's program manager, timber and innovations, Jeff Morrow said his company is trying to incorporate the use of cross-laminated timber, which is basically “plywood on steroids.” This plywood is thicker and stronger than normal plywood and can be used for structural assembly, including floor slabs, roof slabs and roof decks. Using this material is helping deliver projects faster and requires fewer people.

Using this plywood, Lendlease, which has a number of hotels in the pipeline for the U.S. Army through a partnership with the Department of Defense, is delivering projects 40% faster with 30% fewer man hours and improving energy efficiency by 20%.

Sun Light & Power president and CEO Gary Gerber

Sun Light & Power president and CEO Gary Gerber said his organization is using different mounting systems for its solar products. One such system is ballasting non-attached solar systems on flat roofs. Over the last five years, his firm has been doing more of this type of work and cutting installation time in half. His firm is also looking into an attached product without ballasting where the panels can be glued to the roof. Solar awnings as architectural features also are being incorporated into projects more.

Panoramic Interests director of development Zac Shore

Panoramic Interests director of development Zac Shore said his firm is hyper-focused on building workforce and student housing. He said with the rise of construction costs, especially pertaining to smaller units, his firm has moved toward prefab and modular design. His firm is essentially using shipping container technology. Panoramic Interests is focused on standardizing design and mass manufacturing to keep construction costs down.

Modular design also cuts down the planning and design process. He said his firm had two projects in Berkeley, one that was site-build and another that was modular. It took five months for plan check comments to come back on the site-build project, but only a week and a half for the prefab modular project.

Collaboration To Improve Project Performance

WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff managing director Sarah Kuchera (above with WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff VP of marketing Laura Guzman)

WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff managing director Sarah Kuchera said there’s been a lot of collaboration and everyone is sitting at the table who can make a good judgment on how to spend money, which impacts the overall quality of a project.

She said a need for innovation is leading to additional collaboration, especially to make sure the new concept works within a project. A lot of designers are creating innovation centers where outside organizations can come in and test new products.

“We have a space where vendors come in and work side-by-side with our engineering teams to see how a test product could be deployed,” Kuchera said.

How The Labor Shortage Is Reinventing Construction And Design Concepts

OF NOTE: SVN Commercial Real Estate Advisors commercial real estate adviser Wen Tung (above) won two San Jose Sharks tickets during a TEAMWRKX giveaway held after the event.