AWCI’s Cosntruction Dimensions

Play Like the Champs

By: Tim Wies

December 2011


Hello once again. I am writing this month’s column on the heels of one of the most thrilling conclusions to a baseball season in quite some time. As some of you know, I am an unabashed promoter of all things St. Louis, and especially our beloved Cardinals—2011 World Champions!

I am also an unabashed supporter of the wall and ceiling industry, especially when it comes to promoting education, information, interaction and involvement in our industry. Frequent readers of my column will have noticed that I have a penchant for drawing parallels between news headlines/events and our industry.

The Cardinals’ are a case in point. As many of you know, in late August they were 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves for a playoff wildcard spot. Some fans in St. Louis were already looking toward next year, but not the Cardinal players and management. General Manager John Mozeliak made a couple of trades to bring several new faces to the roster, and future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa manipulated game-day lineups frequently to get the best from his team. The players worked hard and believed in themselves and each other. Twice in the sixth game of the World Series the team was one pitch away from losing but went on to victory in what may go down as the most exciting game in World Series history.

I draw an analogy with the Cardinals and our industry. The economy is in a recession, construction is in a depression and what are we doing about it? Have we given up? Are we fighting to survive, or are we quietly and patiently planning and working to win? As management, have we evaluated our team? Do we need to make adjustments or "trades”? Have we given our team the information and resources to win?

As field supervisors, have we manipulated our personnel or "lineups” in order to put each craftsperson in a position to succeed? As craftspeople, have we trained or practiced so we can produce under pressure? Do we work hard every day and believe in our team? Does our team have that quiet confidence of a winner? If you can answer yes to all those questions, you will be successful.

If you have answered no to some, your association can be of assistance, and a good place to start might be the AWCI Academy in Dallas, Jan. 23–26, 2012. It will feature a session on management practices geared to project managers in addition to four Doing It Right seminars for supervisors, managers, estimators and quality control personnel. It could be a great way to start off the New Year.

Anyway, thanks for reading and until next month work hard, work safe, play hard and have fun!

In addition to being the 2011–2012 president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, Wies is president of T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc. in Lake St. Louis, Mo.

Sharpen Your Saw

Tim WiesAn Interview with Tim Wies, AWCI’s Incoming President

By: Ulf Wolf

July 2011


With many sincere thanks to AWCI’s current immediate past president, Brent Allen, whose steady hand saw the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry through another challenging year, we now welcome AWCI’s new president as of July 1, Tim Wies.

Like his predecessor, Tim was born into the construction industry and spent most of his high school and college breaks working at his father’s construction company.

Graduating college with a business management degree in 1982, he joined his father full-time and spent the next few years in the field as both a carpenter and a foreman, before moving indoors in 1985 as estimator and project manager.

In 1994, after 12 years in his father’s business, he left to start his own company: T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc. in Lake St. Louis, Mo. It’s a company he still leads, and successfully at that—his company won an AWCI Excellence in Construction Quality Award in 2010.

An AWCI member since the year he started his own business, Tim served on the AWCI board of directors from 1999 to 2005 and has served on the AWCI Executive Committee since 2008.

Further, since he became a member Tim has served on the Union Contractors Council, and also served as chairman of the Painter’s Craft Committee from 2000 to 2010, as well as on the Union Contractors Advisory Council from 2007 to the present.

There’s more: Tim has served on the AWCI Budget Committee since 2009, on the Industry Awards Committee since 2002, on the Nominating Committee from 2006 to 2010, on the Pinnacle Award Committee from 2007 to 2010 and has been a member of one of AWCI’s contractor business forums since 1997.

Tim lives in Lake St. Louis with his wife of 27 years, Barbara. "We’re empty-nesters now,” he says, now that both of their sons have completed their schooling and struck out on their own adventures.

So, it is with construction in his blood and 30 years of hands-on experience, both in the field and in the office, and with many years of dedicated AWCI service, that Tim now assumes its presidency for the next 12 months.

AWCI’s Construction Dimensions recently put a few questions to Tim about his new challenge. Here’s what he had to say.

We have now seen two and a half fairly tumultuous years in our industry as a result of the great recession, and although the predictions are for an 8 percent rise in construction for 2011, this has yet to play out. According to the numbers published by the Census Bureau on May 2, nationwide construction statistics for the first three months of the year are actually running almost 7 percent behind 2010. In light of this, where do you see the economy—and our industry’s health—going during your tenure and beyond that?
To be honest, this upcoming year will still be tough. It is true that some pockets are starting to show more life, but then again, other areas of the country are still down dramatically.

In fact, I agree with FMI’s and McGraw-Hill’s predictions that we will not be out of these woods until 2014.

The strange thing about this downturn is that unlike almost every other recession—where, in the end, it was the housing and building construction segments that led the market back to health—this time housing is not in a position to do so.

It also concerns me that 2012 is an election year, and people tend to sit on their hands and take a wait-and-see approach on deficit reduction and tax increases until after the election. I know there has to be a lot of money sitting on the sidelines at this point, a lot of businesses now needing to expand and upgrade facilities, but they may wait until after the election to commit.

What is AWCI’s biggest challenge for the coming year?
Right now, our biggest challenge is to convince our members to look forward, despite the current financial straits, and to invest in the future.

AWCI offers a broad and deep range of both technical and management education, which can and will equip both managers and craftsmen for great future expansion. But with cash flow being what it is today, the money and time spent on such training can easily be seen as a drain on dwindling cash rather than an investment.

It is up to AWCI in general, and up to me in particular, to convince our members that the cost of further training and education is in fact not a cost, but an investment.

Even the greatest and most productive lumberjack in the world has to stop now and then to sharpen his saw, or he’ll be working with a very dull saw soon enough, and producing less and less.

I see training and education as sharpening your saw. Yes, it will take time away from immediate production, and yes, there are costs involved, but they are both investments in future productivity.

AWCI’s curriculum includes both business training to make our contractors better managers, and our Doing It Right programs, which hone technical skills.

Again, don’t think "cost,” think "investment.”

What else does AWCI offer the membership that you see as valuable?
One of the most valuable things we provide our members is the opportunity to network with other contractors, suppliers and manufacturers from across the country in order to share views and problems.

It’s amazing how often some issue that is now facing a Minnesota contractor has already been confronted and solved by someone in Florida or in California, or the other way around.

This kind of networking is one of the most valuable features of our conferences, conventions and expos, and the smart contractor takes advantage of this.

Again, it takes time and money to attend these events, but the questions you need to ask are, "Does it bring value down the road? Can it improve my skills and better my company?”

If the answer is "yes,” you have to put down your saw and take time out of production to sharpen it in order to saw more efficiently in the future.

How is AWCI helping its member contractors during the economic downturn?
One important thing is that we are keeping the price right. We have not raised dues in the last 16 years, and then it was the first time in five years. Given the time value of money, members are paying less than half of what they paid to be members 20 years ago.

We are now also hosting online Webinars at no charge. And these, of course, you don’t have to travel to, either.

And instead of offering one- or two-day classes or education programs, we are putting together "Academy Week” to maximize the return on travel costs. Here, in one trip, you can receive the management and technical training that before might have required two or three trips.

Academy Week will offer a session that covers whatever the hot topic is at the moment, along with several of AWCI’s Doing It Right education sessions, so you might attend gypsum or stucco education for the first two days, a management course in the middle, and then finish the week with a steel or ceilings course.

We are working at offering this as inexpensively and efficiently as we can.

And during classes such as this, networking is a great added benefit. Even though we can network on the Web these days, there’s a lot to be said for person-to-person discussions, where you might touch on three or four topics over dinner, one of which directly seems to solve your problem.

Now that both EC-13 and EC-147 of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code—with the goal of improving energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, respectively, by 30 percent over that required by the 2006 IECC—have been approved, how do you see this affecting our members?
I think that the now much-more-stringent energy efficiency requirement might play right into EIFS’ hand, perhaps even accelerate the growing demand for EIFS.

Also, I know that our technical committees have been involved, especially when it comes to working out solutions for stucco in the new energy code, which may now have to be applied on top of a couple of inches of outboard continuous rigid insulation—meaning that the fasteners that hold the stucco mesh in place will have to be that much longer, and need to be that much stronger. So far they have come up with several different designs that may solve the problem.

Do you think the 2012 IECC will benefit our members?
Yes, I think it will allow for growth opportunities, since the envelope now has to be that much more efficient.

Also, I’m sure we will put on Doing It Right classes to address this issue, both in the EIFS and the stucco world.

What other current or impending legislative, governmental or regulatory initiatives do you see impacting AWCI members in the coming year?
Some of our members might be impacted by the new FASB [Financial Accounting Standards Board] regulations concerned with reporting unfunded liability. This may have to appear on the balance sheets once the regulations are finalized for union contractors.

Are there any other issues or dangers you see in the future for the industry? The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the Arizona laws regarding immigration, for example.
The immigration situation is still up in the air and will play out differently in different areas of the country until we have a federal resolution to that problem.

Another issue is insurance. My gut feeling is that insurance premiums will soon go up, especially in the wake of recent natural disasters, which will eat deeply into the insurers’ reserves. They’ll have to make up the losses somewhere, and one way of doing that is to raise premiums across the board.

What can we do to manage that?
As we speak, AWCI is working with Willis brokerage to establish feasibility of an association group discount for general liability policies. If that works out, we might be able to offer our membership better coverages along with some protection against rising premiums.

How should individual members best deal with these issues?
The key thing to remember is that you do not have to re-invent the wheel. One of AWCI’s main duties is to keep a close ear to the ground to detect these changes and issues, and to work out solutions for them before situations become critical.

Individual members must use us as a resource. We may very well already have the solution in place to the problem facing them. In fact, I believe this service alone is worth 10 years of membership dues.

How does AWCI itself look to you today?
Today we are as strong as we’ve ever been, both financially and operationally. Steve Etkin and his staff have done a great job protecting membership assets. They have grown our resources as well as the membership numbers. We’re in a very strong position to continue our support to the industry.

Have you seen any fruits from the closer EIMA relationship—co-located with AWCI?
Yes, there is much better coordination between the two associations, and EIMA has become much more effective representing the industry in Washington. They are leveraging their dues dollars much more effectively through the closer relationship with AWCI. EIFS is, by and large, a great product in transition. Some municipalities, for example, still do not allow EIFS. Not on any sound technical ground these days (problems in the past have resulted from faulty installation procedures of the building envelope, not EIFS itself) but just based on rumor or hearsay.

AWCI, by providing "back-office services” on a contract basis for EIMA, allows the association to focus on its mission to educate the architectural and construction communities, as well as the general public, about the great benefit of EIFS, without having to worry too much about the daily distractions of managing an association.

The benefits of this arrangement will eventually flow down to the membership, especially those specializing in EIFS.

Also, as I said, the 2012 IECC code will give us a helping hand as well.

How do you envision AWCI’s relationship with the Steel Framing Industry Association, which AWCI had a hand in establishing?
[Note: The SFIA is the first and only all-inclusive association focused on promotion, advocacy, education and innovation for the steel framing industry. The primary goal is to unify the industry behind expanding the market for cold-formed steel framing. Membership categories include steel mills, coil coaters, processors, roll-formers, fabricators, engineers, material distributors; all the way through and including the end-user, the framing contractors.]

We have a very good relationship with SFIA. Again, as with EIMA, AWCI is providing back-office support for SFIA to allow them to get up and running as fast as possible, without undue overhead worries. And they are moving quickly. In fact, I just saw the announcement that Patrick Ford has been retained by SFIA as their technical director, and Robert Grupe as their project manager.

We realized that the steel framing sector, and all those involved, did not have a single voice promoting their interests, and that is the purpose of the association—which AWCI backs, of course—since a strong steel framing industry is very much in our interest.

What should AWCI members do more of in order to improve either their own positions or AWCI’s?
Take advantage of the tremendous resources that AWCI have to offer, and become involved with the association’s committees and attend association events.

What are your objectives for the association during your tenure?
My objective is to involve as many new and fresh faces as possible in the organization. We’re open to—and invite—the new generation of contractors to become involved as well.

We have now set up forum groups focused specifically on young executives, as well as a women-only business group.

We want and invite broader involvement, especially from the up-and-coming contractor generation.

What has been the high point of your career?
It has to be reaching that terrible five-year mark as a new company. I’m sure you know that 80 percent of all new construction companies fail within the first five years, and surviving beyond that was probably the high point.

In your career, what are you most proud of?
What I am the most proud of is that I, through my company, provide a good livelihood for a lot of families. That also warms my heart the most.

How would you describe your philosophy on life in general, and on construction in particular?
Generally, I’m a pretty fun-loving guy and quite loose. I am a little less loose at work but still try to keep a fun work atmosphere.

One way to describe me at work is as a recovering micro-manager. I’m getting over it, and that is actually a great feeling. Especially when you delegate to someone and you see him or her take it on and perform really well; that makes the next delegation that much easier.

As a manager, would you let someone make a mistake (if not too costly) to make him or her learn a lesson?
Oh, absolutely, if we can afford it. The mistakes tend to stick, and they don’t do them again. They’re usually very valuable lessons—investments, really—that pay back in the long run.

Why did you want to be president of AWCI?
I’m a firm believer in industry associations, and I am a firm believer in involvement. I rarely, if ever, sit on the sidelines. I tend to speak my mind and become involved.

This attitude has served me well over the years, and I have benefited hugely from my involvement in AWCI.

I actually see my AWCI presidency as a way to return the favor, as a way to give back some of what I’ve received over the years.

What hobbies or personal interests do you have outside of construction?
I enjoy hunting and fishing. I snow ski. I cook. I’m an excellent barbeque chef. I enjoy entertaining people.

And I enjoy golf. Plus I work for a couple of charities.

I think it’s about balance—enjoying both work and leisure.

Any final thoughts?
Sharpen your saw.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.

The GC Speaks—Are You Listening?

The GC is not always right, but subcontractors are learning to pay attention and dissect what they say.

By: Mark L. Johnson

February 2013


Imagine you’re at an industry conference. There you see a seminar entitled, "The GC Speaks—Are You Listening?” Intrigued, you decide to attend. What do you suppose the speaker is going to say?

"My take is that general contractors are pushing more of their duties downhill,” says Craig Daley, president, Daley’s Drywall & Taping, Campbell, Calif. "They ‘speak’ about getting submittal approvals, shop drawing approvals and revisions distributed properly, but lately we don’t have the information we need. And it seems all fingers end up pointing at us.”

Indeed, points of communication between GCs and subs seem to be diminishing. True, the GC speaks. But, not often in person. He issues directives. But, sometimes not so clearly. He distributes project revisions. But, not always in timely fashion. These days a subcontractor just has to know the drawings and hope, blindly, that they build to intended specifications.

"The paperwork shuffling that you’d think a general contractor would be responsible for suddenly seems like it doesn’t matter,” Daley says. "It’s become our problem.”

The Silent Treatment
Drywall subcontractors say that conversations between themselves and GCs remain amicable. But these days, they say less is being spoken between them.

"They think we read minds,” Daley says. "Rather than double checking and distributing information, we’ve become responsible for more things that we don’t even know exist.”

Here’s what can happen. A drywall subcontractor sends a submittal to the GC. The submittal goes unacknowledged. The lack of response is interpreted as an approval. So, the crews begin work. No news is viewed as good news.

But what if it isn’t good news? What if the architect has a problem with the submittal? The crews have begun building the assembly. Normally, the GC would help route the submittal to the architect and, within a reasonable period of time, either secure an approval or pass along any noted concerns.

"We’re finding on a number of projects where we need approvals we get nothing back,” Daley says. "Often, we move forward with what we submit, and pay the price when we find out the general never ran them through all the channels.”

Communication can be tricky. A subcontractor would generally not phone the architect to ask about clarifying information without first getting the GC’s nod to make such a call. Different contractors, of course, have different relationships with their architects and owners, but most prefer that they, and not subs, speak directly to owners and architects.

"That’s why we teach our guys to be proactive and check in regularly with the GC,” Daley says. "We have to be the drivers of information. We have to see that there have been no revisions and that our submittals have been approved.”

Tough Talk
Not long ago, drywall subcontractors used to be able to negotiate adverse contractual clauses. They could dilute some of the language or even get certain clauses stricken from the contract. Times have changed.

"The GC will say, ‘Look. We’re not altering contracts. Legal says we don’t do this anymore,’” says Jeff Burley, CEO and president, B&B Interior Systems, Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Then they add, ‘If you don’t sign there’s a big line of people at the door who are willing to take this contract at this number.’”

Burley says that most GCs have become construction managers—contract managers for all intents and purposes. It’s part of the GC’s work to point out the fine print of contracts while overseeing their projects. In some cases, however, the fine print has been exchanged for contract clauses that impute the architect’s "intent” even where details are missing. Such clauses protect architects and owners and place the onus on subcontractors to build such "missing” assemblies.

Suppose, for example, that you build strictly to the drawings. In this example, let’s say that the drawings show a standard wall assembly with no notations about it being a firewall. The GC comes through, notes your work on the wall and contacts the owner and the architect. Here’s what happens next:

The architect says, "Well, it was my intent for this wall to be a firewall.”

"Well, wait a sec. It’s not marked as a firewall,” you say.

"Well, similar walls on the job are firewalls,” the architect says.

"Okay, but you’ve denoted those other walls. This one was not denoted as a firewall.”

"Well, but it’s similar. We just missed it. It was the intent for it to be a firewall.”

"Okay. I bid plans and specs. I bid white paper with blue lines. I bid whatever is electronically sent to me. But, I can’t interpret what your ‘intent’ was.”

"Sorry, but we need a firewall here,” the architect says. The owner agrees. The GC agrees, too.

You look at them all and say, "Wait a second. I don’t have this in my bid.”

"Sorry.”

Later on, the general contractor says, "Look, I didn’t get any money from the architect or from the owner, so you’re going to have to eat it.”

"What do you mean I’m going to have to eat it?”

"Well, it says in the contract. If it is not approved by the architect or the owner and if it is the intent of the drawings to include this, then you have to include it. You’ll have to eat it.”

The GC has spoken. And, clearly, it’s not easy to listen. Perhaps adopting a simple point of view can help.

"They’re the client,” says one drywall firm president. "Do what’s good for them and have a no-problem attitude. If you’re not listening to what they want, they’re going to go to the next guy who is.”

GCs value cooperation and coordination. They need people who are team players and not, this same drywall executive says, "rugged individualists who only care about themselves and their companies.”

Of course, not all GCs take a tough stance on the job. In fact, several drywall subcontractors feel that many GCs try to manage both upstream and downstream. That is, they try to guide owners and architects’ expectations on scheduling, contract fulfillment and product quality, while also showing fairness toward the subs.

"If they have taken the time to scope you out, and they feel like you’ve been cooperative and have explained to them everything, and if there’s something that’s not on the drawings, even if they don’t get reimbursed by the owner, they will make every effort to at least make you whole—or close to it,” Burley says. "You may not get profits. You may not get overhead. But you may get some of your costs, because they realize that it was not on the drawings.”

Avenue for Connection
The book, The Lost Art of Listening—How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships, states that "we define ourselves in conversation with others.” In other words, listening shapes who we are. It is an avenue for connection with others. While the book was written for individuals, and not companies, many of its points can apply in the high-energy, complicated and contractual world of building structures.

"The old saying is a general contractor wants price, quality and schedule,” says Tim Wies, president, T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc., St. Louis, Mo. "You can get price and schedule, price and quality, or schedule and quality—but not all three.”

So, find out what the job’s priorities are going to be. Create an avenue for connection.

"Do we really listen to our customers and what they want out of what they’re buying?” Wies asks. "Or, are we continuing to sell what we think they want?”

Wies believes that many drywall and ceiling subcontractors fail to pay attention to what general contractors would like to see from their work. He says that there’s a tendency to assume that GCs want strictly a low price. Wies says that’s not always the case. His conversations with GCs show that they often expect quality, safety, productivity and schedule adherence. Their priorities depend on the project.

"I guess the big question is, Are we hearing them?,” Wies asks. "Are we moving in that direction? Or, are we stuck in the thinking that they’re asking for everything and then they want this other thing on top of it all?”

As The Lost Art of Listening states, successful listening involves a struggle to suspend our own needs in favor of learning about the needs of others. The struggle is worth the effort.

"They are our customer. It’s our job to pay attention,” Wies says. "The GC is not always right, but we have to pay attention and dissect what they say. You have to be respectful. We have to listen.”

Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer and marketing communications consultant.

Deadlines: Learn to Like Them

By: Ulf Wolf

October 2010


Historically, a deadline was a line around a prison beyond which a prisoner could go only at the risk of being shot.

By extension, you might assume that a job-schedule deadline is that prison line—especially if liquidated damages are involved—beyond which you’d strays at your own financial peril.

If the project slips behind schedule and the general contractor starts behaving frantically, deadlines can grow into nightmares. If, however, you see that deadlines are simply an outline of optimum project sequences plotted against time—taking the physical site limitations into account—they can be not only helpful, but indispensable to your success.

Let’s take a closer look.

How Many Deadlines Are There?
Naturally, the overarching deadline is a project’s completion date, usually set by the owner—or at his behest, by the architect. Sometimes the completion date is set in stone, say for a school that has to open its doors at the beginning of the school year, or for a new casino that has spent millions in promotions that announce a specific opening date.

Other times the completion date is more like a wish and may be open to negotiation between the GC and the owner before being finalized. In this case, a smart GC will consult his subcontractors before putting together a schedule, and a not-so-smart GC does not.

Charles Antone of consultants R.J. Kenney Associates, Inc. in Massachusetts confirms the wisdom of checking with the subs: "In order to establish deadlines, we always go to the individual subcontractors for their input, asking them for duration—how long is their portion of the project going to take, and with how many men?

"Once each has put forward his schedule and we all agree, we sign contracts and make them stick to it. The important point is that the schedule is based on contractor input, or it would not be real.”

Deadlines other than the final completion date are milestones that have to be met by each trade in order for the overall project to come in on time.

"There are a number of deadlines,” says Dennis McDonnell, vice president of T.J. McCartney, Inc. in New Hampshire. "Most projects are broken down into different phases or work functions such as electrical inspection, start testing HVAC systems, and drywall taping complete. A typical schedule breaks down into individual milestones by trade.”

Of course, there’s Sean Curran’s take on different deadlines. Sean is the president of Paragon Decorators, Inc. in New York, and he’s not alone in this view. "The GCs are rarely truthful about the actual deadline,” he says. "They’ll tell you the drop-dead date is Oct. 1. Then, come to find out, it’s actually Dec. 1.

"So there are at least two deadlines—the one given to the subs, and the real one stated in the contract between the GC and the owner. In all the time I’ve been in business, I’ve only run across one contractor who was actually upfront about it.”

Job Sequence
Most wall and ceiling contractors see five or six deadlines in any one project, outlining the job sequence.

As Brenda Reicks, vice president/construction coordinator at Jarco Builders, Ltd. in Iowa, confirms, "We have deadlines for each phase or section of our project involvement. There are deadlines for framing, for hanging the drywall, for taping and finishing, and also for EIFS, since we work the envelope as well. Also, in our case, we sometimes do gypsum floors, which means another deadline. These are normally worked out by the owner and GC, hopefully in coordination with the sub.”

Stacy Earhart, chief estimator/vice president of Fulton Interior Systems, Inc. in Indiana, says, "I work with at least four or five deadlines: the framing, hanging the drywall, taping, the ceiling, ceiling tiles and the envelope.”

The correct sequence reigns supreme when it comes to milestones. Since most of those we interviewed work both the interior and the envelope, as a rule of thumb, you’ll have to set at least these milestones:

• Interior framing complete.
• Curtain wall framing complete.
• Interior drywall complete.
• Taping and finishing complete.
• Ceiling grid complete.
• Ceiling tiles complete.
• Exterior cladding complete.
• Water/Fireproofing tests passed.

The sequence of these may vary slightly depending on how you interface and work with other trades, but each phase of the project that you own will have its own deadline.

From an estimating standpoint, Glenn Sieber, owner/chief estimator of Easley & Rivers, Inc. in Pennsylvania, takes a different view: "From my perspective, the deadlines I isolate are the bidding deadline, the project starting deadline, and the third, of course, is the completion deadline.”

Who Sets the Deadlines?
The general contractor carries overall responsibility for the project, and is answerable to the owner and/or architect. Therefore, the GC is the one who sets and finalizes all deadlines—hopefully, as mentioned, with input from the subs.

McDonnell confirms, "The GC lays out the schedule, sometimes with input from the subs, and then updates it throughout the project. Sometimes the owner has a specific and hard deadline, especially with public works, which the GC has to abide by.”

Curran concurs, "The deadlines are set by the GC. And they’re very aggressive about them here in New York. In fact, they will replace you as a contractor if you don’t meet the deadlines.”

How Do You Meet Them?
Perhaps it need not be said, but the primary requirement to meeting a deadline is to agree with it—sometimes referred to as buy-in.

You’ve run across the electrical contractor who is convinced that the deadline is impossible to meet (and who, in effect, is setting out to prove himself right). He’ll hold you up for days, weeks, and jeopardize the whole project. There’s a guy who didn’t agree with the deadline.

Conversely, those who do agree that the deadlines can be met will bring a can-do attitude to the job. They will overcome obstacles and solve problems to bring their portion of the job in on time.

Once a deadline has your buy-in, we enter the nuts-and-bolts of working things out to meet it.

For McDonnell, this means a mix of software and experience. "Our estimating software breaks out each work code with materials and man-days, and we compare that to what the GC is giving us. This way we can forecast how many guys we need to frame, to hang the sheets, and so on.”

Matt Van Hekken, chief estimator at The Bouma Corporation in Michigan, agrees: "A lot of it is experience. We get the man-days called for from the software, but the deployment of resources often boils down to experience.”

For Earhart as well, it also comes down to experience: "I lay the schedule out based on the man-days projected by the estimating software. Then I use an Excel spreadsheet to do the actual forecasting. At least half the jobs I work require detailed scheduling, and with the spreadsheet I can factor in our historical experience with similar projects to come up with realistic deadlines and crew requirements.

Tim Wies, president of T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc. in Missouri, concurs: "It’s all experience for us. As far as labor goes, our estimating software gives us both material and man-days. If the GC has given us a duration of 20 weeks, and I need 1,000 man-days to get the job done, I know that we’ll have to average 10 men per day on the job. And since the manpower needs run a bell curve, we’ll probably start out with two or three guys, and end up with two or three guys, and have as many as 25 people on the job at peak.

"Of course, we also have to keep a close eye on the weather factor. A winter project may have to be planned with job enclosures and heating.”

So, Who Owns the Deadlines?
The consensus is that at the end of the day it is the general contractor—who negotiated the job, and all its conditions, with the owner—who owns the schedules and its many deadlines.

Glenn Sieber puts it this way, "The GC is the one who needs to coordinate the trades. He sets the schedule in agreement with the owner and architect, and he is the one who is ultimately responsible for meeting the deadlines.”

Earhart’s take is that it is "usually a joint ownership between the GC’s superintendents and foremen, and our superintendents and project managers.”

Or as Wies puts it, "The GC negotiates the overall deadline with the owner, and once that contract is signed, the deadlines belong to the general. Once that is established, and we now sign our contract with the GC, by proxy and contract we now take ownership as well, and it is then up to our project managers to coordinate with the GC’s superintendents and foremen to get the job done.

"This coordination becomes critical if we are working a hard schedule with liquidated damages; the PM then has to be very alert and document any delays, and what caused them.”

Nine Women
It seems to be a law of nature that schedules slip toward the end of a project; at the front end there seems to be all the time in the world. But things invariably "happen” to delay various trades, be it weather, slow work performance, or materials that were not ordered or delivered on time—things that rarely, if ever, push the final completion date out, they only shorten the duration for everyone involved in wrapping things up.

That is when the all-too-familiar general contractor philosophy of "twice the men will produce twice the product” rears its ugly head.

In Curran’s view, "this is something the GCs do not understand—that doubling the amount of guys on the job does not necessarily double the work. Too many men on the job is inefficient, people keep bumping into each other and into the other trades as well—who may also have extra men on the job to meet their deadlines.”

Or as Sieber puts it, "You cannot make nine women have a baby in one month. Doubling the manpower does not double the output.”

Wies’ analogy is, "If the Queen Mary crosses the Atlantic in 30 days, how come 30 Queen Marys can’t do it in a day? That seems to be the GC question come crunch time.”

But then he adds, "Actually, I think the GCs are aware of the fallacy in their reasoning. They know that too many bodies in one room may not all even fit, much less work productively. But they cannot afford to consider that. They simply have to meet their deadlines, whatever that takes.”

Productivity Study
When you’re up against the "Nine Women” philosophy and ask for extra money to make up for the productivity loss, the GC may give you a blank stare, and will most likely not concede that you’ll lose money by doubling the crew or tripling the shifts.

A recent study will serve you well in underscoring your point of lost efficiency and productivity. Sponsored by the Northwest Wall and Ceiling Bureau, this study, Impacts to Labor Productivity in Steel Framing and the Installation and Finishing of Gypsum Wallboard, tested 38 separate variables generated by a committee of industry experts against labor productivity in a sample of 226 projects.

According to the report summary, "All of the major productivity variables tested were negatively correlated with actual achieved productivity for framing and the installation and finishing of gypsum wallboard. This study clearly shows that the presence of certain factors will result in a reduction in labor productivity in the steel framing and the installation and finishing of gypsum wallboard.”

Factors include things like extreme weather, trade stacking, crowding, over¬time, added shifts, changes to the work, crew over-manning, ramp-up/ramp-down, ripple effects, and so on.

The paper is summarized at NWCB’s site, where you can also order a full hard copy. Go to www.nwcb.org/publications.php?view=productivity.

Impossible Deadlines
Sometimes you just shake your head. There is just no way. This cannot be done by the specified date. What do you do?

Van Hekken suggests, "We let them know up-front if we don’t think a schedule can be met. Be vocal about that.”

McDonnell agrees: "Speak up-front. If we’re bidding a job, and they put forth an unrealistic schedule, we will tell them that. And if it stays unrealistic, we just won’t bid it.”

Wies agrees: "If the deadlines are really aggressive, we’ll factor shift-premiums into the bid. If the job will not pay for that, we won’t bid it.”

Then he adds, "Sometimes, you can measure a contractor’s savvy by the jobs he doesn’t take on.”

Deadline Advice
Here is some advice based on the experience of the AWCI members we interviewed for this article.

From McDonnell: "You have to be very proactive about it up-front; we are on the job almost until the end, and crunch time comes in the end. If we wait until then to speak up, it’s too late to handle it.”

From Antone: "You have to keep a daily, or at least weekly, check on precisely how many units are left on the project and how much time that is going to take. You know the production rate you outlined in your estimate and in your bid, and you also know your production rate in the field—based on this you can determine how you’re doing, and what it is going to take to bring in the project on time.”

Reicks suggests you "look as far ahead as you can.”

Van Hekken says, "Let them know up front what you anticipate for duration, and if you need extra time or money. Our philosophy is that we can always meet the duration, but we cannot guarantee the schedule since that is often out of our hands due to other trades.”

Sieber says, "Keep an eye on the weather. Some material costs can jump 30 to 50 percent during hurricane season, for example.”

Michael Ferenz, owner/project manager of Glenview Construction, Inc. in New Jersey, adds, "The key is to understand the whole project, the correct sequence of events, and how they dovetail with other trades. Correct sequencing is critical.”

Says Bill Stuhr, senior estimator and project manager at Stephen P. Donnelly Company, Inc. in Minnesota, "We don’t have a long construction season here in Minnesota, and that has bearing on what we do. Commitments to meeting deadlines has all to do with weather. A major snow storm can stop everything.”

Earhart says, "Most of all, be up-front. If the deadlines are unreasonable, let them know right away. Don’t just accept the schedule. Be proactive. Help them with what is more reasonable, and bend over to help speed things up.”

Pat Arrington of Commercial Enterprises, Inc. in New Mexico reminds us, "The project has to be constructible within the given time frame. You need to know that it can be done, including the time for things to dry and settle.

"Also, you have to see the overall sequence, and have some alternatives in your back pocket if your primary sequence doesn’t work out for you. I once ran three different areas during an airport construction, so that I always had somewhere to work my crew if something got in the way in the other areas.

"Also, remember peer respect rather than peer pressure. That’s how you get the project done on time—a cooperative, can-do attitude.”

Finally, Weis says, "Make sure you can meet the end date. Really look at the man-days needed, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Once you sign that contract, you are now part owner of that deadline.”

Given a well-planned job, correctly sequenced and realistically timed, your deadlines become not so much deadlines as lifelines—milestones to meet in a joint effort with other trades to bring the project in on time. Without them there would be no coordination, no predictable sequence.

So, learn to like them.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.

 

Safety vs. the Bottom Line

Is There a Conflict?

July 2009 

By: Ulf Wolf

On paper, it would seem that perhaps there is a conflict between safety and the bottom line.

The job site is busy, the schedule is tight, and while sanding, you now need to get over another 10 feet: Unhook the harness. Climb all the way down. Release the brake. Roll the scaffold over 10 feet. Engage the brakes again. Climb back up. Put the harness back on … oh, all that wasted time.

So much easier: Don’t engage the brake in the first place, and pull the scaffold and yourself along the wall as you progress. A wall this size, you must be saving yourself—and you boss, mind you—an hour at least, maybe two.

"Don’t try to save me money,” Tim Wies tell his employees. Wies is president of T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc. in Missouri, and one of the four safety directors—all nominated for this year’s AWCI Excellence in Construction Safety Award—we spoke to regarding safety and the bottom line.

"‘Don’t think for me,’ I tell them. ‘Don’t try to help me out by cutting corners and taking risks. The hours you may save me, will cost me in the end,’” Wies says. "Say by doing something unsafe, they save me two hours of time. In my market, that’s $100, $50 an hour at cost. Now if they don’t build the scaffold properly and fall off and break a leg, that broken leg is going to cost me $15,000 to $18,000 on the insurance alone.”

The Conflict

Is there, in fact, a conflict? This was the question we put to the four nominees.

Kathy Coffey, safety director of Grayhawk, LLC in Kentucky, did not hesitate for a second: "Within Grayhawk itself there is absolutely no conflict. The owners are totally dedicated to promoting safety and educating employees, and they know that our safety record has in fact improved the bottom line.

"I think where the perceived conflict sometimes arises is when we’re working for general contractors who don’t see safety as a priority. That said, most of the general contractors we work with are wonderful. We have a very good working relationship, and they know where Grayhawk stands on safety.

"But, here is what I have observed: I see other subcontractors jeopardizing their safety program as a result of production stresses, and they don’t really know how to approach the general contractor about the resulting problem.

"They have yet to build mutual understanding with the GC. These subs need to be up front about safety going into the contract, telling the GC that they will not jeopardize their safety program for production woes. They need to work together with the GC to find a solution.”

How about working with and around other subcontractors who do not treat safety as a priority? Does that create a hazard for your employees?

"Oh, absolutely,” Coffey says. "Even if you have developed a good safety culture within your organization, when you’re working a job site with little or no safety concerns, it definitely exposes your employees to hazards.”

Such as?

"The biggest thing that I see is fall hazards: Missing guard rails, elevator shafts being left open. Also, a messy site where no one is stressing good housekeeping, which is part and parcel of a safety culture, means slip, trip and fall hazards.

"If you pre-plan the job and do not accept a ridiculous schedule, then you, as a subcontractor, are being proactive about safety instead of reactive. And that’s the whole problem: The GC squeezes them, and the first thing they want to blame it on is safety—‘causing me to do this, causing me to do that.’ That’s not true. If they had done their job up front and pre-planned well—and trained their men and women to implement safety, you would never hear that.

"Once you adopt a safety culture, then safety becomes second nature; you don’t even think about it. You would no more leave your prescription lenses at home than your hard hat and protection glasses.”

Phil Ford, safety director at M.L. Jones Acoustics Inc. in Oklahoma, has this take on the conflict: "Our safety record has improved our bottom line. There’s no doubt about it.

"We have found that if you want to compete in today’s market and bid the larger general contractors, you have to have a safety program in place—and not just on paper, as the large GCs demand it in fact.

"Additionally, having a true and known safety culture enables us to bid jobs we would not ordinarily have been able to bid. In fact, this culture has created a broader market for us. We directly attribute several jobs to the fact that the general contractor knows that we will not supply irresponsible workers who, through injury, will disrupt work-flow and cause him other problems.”

As Wies sees it, "There really is no conflict, because you can balance safety and productivity. As you enforce a safety mindset in your company, you will notice that productivity does not drop, because with this mindset of care, employees tend to do things right the first time. This, of course, leaves you less re-work and directly driving the bottom line. Further, your insurance rate will go down. So, in the grand scheme of things, a safety program simply makes sense, economically and otherwise.

"Today, with workers’ comp insurance and healthcare costs, accidents are hugely expensive. Therefore, I don’t think safety and productivity are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they go hand in hand.”

Shelly Sigurdsson, safety director at Expert Drywall, Inc. in Washington, agrees: "There is no conflict. In fact, if you don’t stress and implement a safety culture, it will definitely affect the bottom line adversely. If you don’t invest in safety, your claim costs will spin out of control, while investing in safety helps the bottom line tremendously.”

The Hidden Cost

Apart from the more obvious cost savings: Workers’ comp insurance and medical expense, there are other—and sometimes larger—costs that are not immediately apparent.

"When an employee is injured on a job site, and it’s of a serious nature, you can write off that day,” Coffey says. "You may have 500 men on that job, but if the accident is severe, once the ambulance has left, they’re not really working. They gathering: ‘Did you see what happened to Joe? They say he fell. They took him out of here in an ambulance.’

"And talk about bottom line: That’s 500 men at $30 an hour standing around for six hours. How much did that cost you? And heaven forbid if the person died. That will ruin the whole week.

"General contractors normally don’t understand the traumatic impact that a workplace accident has on all the trades on a job site. And if there is a fatality, then what are you dealing with?

"One day a person dies on the job. No work done for the rest of that day. The next day OSHA will show up, or the same day. And they will shut the whole job down for another day. Then the investigation, all that. It is a huge hidden cost.

"But it is a real cost when you sit down and think about it, or if you walk around the job site after an accident. You see men and women standing around, and they’re not smiling.”

Wies makes a similar observation: "If it is a severe accident, work stops that day, and if it’s a horrible accident or a fatality, it will cause grief and distress on the job site for days, if not weeks. It’s hard to put a finger on cost, but you know it’s happening. The accident becomes the topic of the site, and everybody will have an opinion and will want to weigh in. It’s a very real cost that normally stays hidden only until the end of the week—if you’re tracking that job—you say, what happened this week? An accident, that’s what happened.”

Sigurdsson has seen the same thing: "A gruesome accident will not only slow the site down for the day, but—especially if it’s a fatality—you can count on that job being shut down for a week or more. If it is not a fatality, still, you’ve lost the rest of the day. It’s all people will talk about, the morale goes out the bottom.”

The Family
But more important to each of the AWCI safety-award nominees is the impact an accident can and will have on the injured employee and his or her family.

Coffey says, "Expert Drywall—and I’ve been with them for 20 years now—is a family oriented business. I see my employees as extended family. I want them to maintain their lifestyles. I want them to be able to go and play ball with their kids, to be able to travel around to their soccer tournaments, to be able to pick up their little 2-year-old daughter.

"An injury puts a completely different dynamic on the family. It can ruin it. That’s why, when it comes to safety, we care about our people first and foremost. If we don’t have our people safe and working for us, then what do we have as a company? The company is our people.”

Ford, too, puts the employee and his family above all else. "I’ve seen people lose a finger or a limb, and that is not just an injury but it can also alter a whole life; it can destroy a marriage. It’s not just the injury, but also the ripple effect from it. That, for me, is the bottom line, why I care so much about it. I want to see the guy go home whole.”

Wies, who owns his company, shares this concern: "Even though we’re 200 or 300 people, I consider us a small family business. I consider everybody who works for me a friend, and I don’t want to see any of them hurt. As I tell them, ‘The worst day in my life would be having to call your wife or your husband, mother or father, sister or brother, and tell them that you were severely injured or killed on one of my projects. I can think of nothing worse. So, please whatever you do in the field to help the company, I beg you: Never put me in a position where I have to make that call.’”

Reluctant Employees
What about those employees who don’t want to be bothered with safety?

Wies has run into some of those. "I find that to be an age issue. In my experience, the younger workers have less of a problem with safety than the older, more experienced men, who are often the ones reluctant to make the change.

"The younger, more up-to-date men see the industry evolving, not only in the equipment used but also in the techniques employed, so they really understand that safety is simply part and parcel of the evolution of our industry.

"They know that if they are to move up in this industry, they have to accept safety as a part of it, while the older ones, a few years from retirement, don’t want to put up with the "inconvenience” of hard hats and glasses. To them it’s an aggravation. For the younger guys, safety is just the way it is.”

How do you handle the older guy, then?

"Oh, they comply, too. It’s just that you hear a lot more about it.”

Sigurdsson has seen them, too. "I’m really strict with things like safety glasses, hard hats: If they don’t use them, I’ll write them up. I don’t mess around.”

Training
Training is always an issue. Where, and at what cost.

Ford had this to say: "Training can be an expensive proposition. The owner of our company implemented in-house training that has proven effective.

"It would be quite expensive to send all of our employees to an outside source. It is also more effective to do it in-house since we are able to train our employees specifically to our scope of work and dealing with the hazards we meet. Outside training facilities provide only an overview of general hazards that are not specific to our scope of work.”

Wies counts himself lucky: "We do some in-house training but we’re a union shop, and fortunately, here in the St. Louis area, the trades that we represent do a tremendous amount of training themselves.

"All the Carpenters here in St. Louis are OSHA 10 certified through the union’s journeyman upgrade training. Also, in St. Louis we’re blessed with good labor-management relations. While the Carpenters have taken care of theirs, the Painters agree they should be there, too. But that hasn’t happened yet, so we brought that training in-house, and have now brought all of our painters, plasterers and laborers up to OSHA 10 standards, as well. So, it’s a combination of in-house and union training.

"Also, twice a year we have a company-wide safety meeting where all employees attend. We bring in speakers from our insurance company, our superintendents address them, I talk to them. We’ve also had the union executive secretaries/treasurers from each trade, as well as Terry Nelson, who heads up the Carpenters in St. Louis, come in and talk. We serve coffee and such, and provide booths and demonstrations of new safety equipment, and how to use it properly.”

It’s Personal
For each of these four nominees, safety is more than just a job. It has grown into a personal passion.

"My interest in safety,” Coffey says, "stems from lessons learned in life. When I was a young woman, I worked in a sawing factory. One day I saw a woman get three of her fingers cut off. They whisked her away to the hospital and that was that. Management never talked about why it had happened.

"Her fingers were cut off by a shearing machine, where the guard—although it was equipped with one—was never put to use. The company treated the incident as ‘no big deal,’ and this set me thinking: How can somebody losing three fingers be viewed as acceptable. To me, at the time and from there on until now, that is NOT acceptable.”

Ford says, "When I first came into the business—this was before the OSHA was enacted in 1970—the contractor more or less told you what to do. If you had any objections, you were informed that if you didn’t want to do it, there were two guys just outside, ready to do it. Like now, there were more people than jobs at that time.

"But as time went by, the trend shifted to more jobs than people, and as the OSHA act took hold, deaths alone were cut in half in the first few years after enactment, and that is what convinced me: A focus on safety really works.”

Wies entered the trade around the same time: "When I initially entered the field about 25 years ago, safety was not part of anybody’s culture. It was not important. People had started to talk about it, but it was a joke. A safety meeting meant someone bought some beer and you took half an hour off at the end of the day, kicked back and listened to someone talk about safety. That was the culture at that time.

"Today, as you look back at all the risks you took back then, you realize there never was a good reason for those risks.”

Sigurdsson is fueled by her work as an instructor at the Union Apprenticeship School, and taking care of new tradesmen right from the beginning.

"I’ve seen incidents,” she says. "I saw a guy fall on a job, an iron worker, and land right in front of my crew. He died. I mean, he was gone. His mom came to the job a little later to see where her 30-year-old son had fallen.

"So, I take it personally. I have seen what happens when somebody falls and gets injured, and the toll it takes on their lives. I don’t want that to happen to any of my guys out in the field.”

Safety vs. the Bottom Line — What Conflict?
As if the costs saved on insurance, workers’ comp, medical cost and lost labor—including the cost to train replacements—were not evidence enough of there being no real conflict.

But on top of that, a well-trained, safety-oriented employee will also—almost as an extension of his responsibility for his own and others’ safety—take care to do the job right the first time. That means fewer punch lists, less re-work, sweeter bottom line.

Case dismissed.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.