Closing the Worker Gap: Trade Schools Seeing Higher Enrollments

5 Tips to Keep Your Construction Project as Efficient as PossibleA construction firm relies on skilled craftspeople for success, but workers like these have been hard to come by in recent years. With trade schools gaining popularity, however, the outlook for construction worker recruitment stands to improve.

Seeking a Promising Future

The high cost of a four-year college education and limited job opportunities for graduates have left many wary of taking the traditional college route. These concerns, combined with the after-effects of a shaky economy, are attracting an increasing number of students to trade-based careers that offer stability and a solid income.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that the number of certificates and associate degrees awarded in construction and related fields rose by 67.8 percent between 2000 and 2012. That’s more than 20 percent faster than the growth in four-year college enrollment during that time.

Job security isn’t the only motivation for choosing career and technical education (CTE). Many students choose a trade after discovering an aptitude in their high school technical classes or discussing options with their guidance counselor to find something they’re truly passionate about. The growing prestige of trade schools and apprenticeships, thanks to their graduates’ success, also draws students.

More Workers with In-Demand Skills

The real challenge in construction worker recruitment comes in finding enough carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and other tradespeople with advanced skills and hands-on experience. These are things even someone with a four-year general contractor degree may lack due to these programs’ emphasis on business skills such as cost estimating and job scheduling over actual construction skills.

By focusing on the practical skills sought after in today’s construction market, trade schools are filling in the gap. Courses offered are firmly grounded in the STEM (science, technology, engineering. and math) disciplines. Students gain proficiency with cutting-edge technology such as software programs used to model electrical and plumbing systems. Beyond this, trade schools help students develop soft skills such as adaptability and conflict resolution that make them valuable team members.

For more tips on construction worker recruitment, contact us at Construction Monitor.

The Evolution of Cement Use in Construction

cement use in constructionCement is such a ubiquitous building material that we tend to take its current form for granted. Yet cement use in construction has a history dating back thousands of years, and in that time the material has undergone numerous changes and improvements. Today, cement continues to evolve for the better.

The Origins of Modern Cement

Cement was produced in many ancient societies using locally available natural materials. Egyptians used gypsum, while the Greeks and Romans blended limestone with sand to make their cement. The Romans eventually discovered they could change the properties of their cement by adding other materials. One of these materials was volcanic ash known as pozzolana. The addition of this ash created a cement that could set under water, making it useful for building harbors. In fact, concrete made from this cement resists salt water better than today’s concrete.

The most common cement used today, Portland cement, came from a different source. Portland cement evolved from the cements used in Britain in the mid-19th century.

The Future of Cement Use in Construction

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered a way to make Portland-cement concrete both more durable and more eco-friendly.

The conventional cement formula uses between 1.2 to 2.2 parts of calcium for every 1 part of silica, but 1.7 parts of calcium is the standard. MIT researchers found that decreasing the calcium content to 1.5 doubles the resulting concrete’s resistance to cracks.

Better yet, switching to a cement formula that uses 1.5 parts calcium could reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that come from cement production by up to 60 percent. That’s no small improvement, considering the cement industry alone is responsible for some 5 to 10 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide production.

A more durable cement also means less concrete will be needed to repair and replace damaged structures, further reducing cement production’s environmental impact. Although this new formula performs well in the laboratory, it remains to be tested in real-world applications.

To stay on top of recent developments in cement use in construction, contact us at Construction Monitor.

Forecast of Trends in the Home Renovation Market

home renovation marketThe home renovation market can be a gold mine for contractors, but its cyclical nature means you need to keep track of the trends if you want to be ready when opportunities arise.

Sales of Existing Homes Set to Increase

The greatest demand for home renovations comes from buyers of existing homes. Not only do buyers want to remodel their homes to suit their preferences, but older homes often require repairs and upgrades.

In 2014, a sluggish economy and hard winter held back sales of existing homes, but the numbers are set to improve in 2015. With the economy and job prospects picking up, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) predicts the rate of existing home sales should grow by around 7 percent.

Economic Conditions Encourage New Home Sales

News homes also drive the home renovation market and NAR analysis suggest the rate of new home sales could rise by 30 to 40 percent in 2015. Predictions of higher interest rates are helping to fuel this growth. In 2014, analysts predicted mortgage rates would hit 5 percent by the year’s end. Although they rose to only 3.87 percent, the Mortgage Bankers Association found applications for home loans nonetheless increased by 49 percent.

Many analysts still project mortgage rates of 5 percent or more by the end of 2015, which could motivate prospective home buyers to take advantage of relatively low mortgage rates.

As the economy picks up, so does demand for homes, causing prices to rise accordingly. In 2014, home prices rose by some 6.4 percent and the increase is predicted to continue. Rising home prices may encourage some to buy while they can, but decreased affordability could limit the growth in home sales.

The way buyers intend to use their new property is another factor for contractors to consider. The younger generation’s preference for metropolitan areas, where they can’t afford to buy property, has increased demand for rental homes. Rental home owners spend primarily on maintenance, but hesitate to invest in major renovations.

To keep up with trends in the home renovation market, contact us at Construction Monitor.

 

Construction Monitor Goes Responsive!

Construction Monitor is rolling out what’s called a “responsive” design. Responsive design is a recent trend in websites that focuses on making one site work well on many devices and screens. In short, the site responds to the device it is being displayed on.

No matter if you are using a great big display on your work computer, or on the go with a small smartphone, the new Construction Monitor site should scale and fit that screen fairly well. We’ve included some screenshots so you can see how the home page and some of the tools will differ on different media.

If you’re not a big technology junkie, and just care that a thing works (not how it works), give our new site layout a try. If you have any questions, concerns, or something isn’t working right for you on the new design. Give us a call (435-586-1205 x0), or shoot us an email (support@constructionmonitor.com), we’ll get it sorted out.

If you are a bit of a technology junkie, and love how to know how things work, technical bits ahead!

Our new layout started with Twitter’s bootstrap. We then tweaked it, a lot. For us, we used their LESS download package, and added a new LESS sheet that contained all of our adjustments. This makes it easy to update as bootstrap updates, and easy to see where all of our own adjustments are.

The total amount of CSS we’re using on the site hasn’t changed much (in fact it might have gone up some), but what has changed is the amount of CSS we had to write. Our old style sheet was 2500 lines, our new customization only sheet is 600 lines. And the ease of updating is greatly increased, LESS (and SASS) support a great number of tools to speed up designers work on styling websites.

Alongside updating the stylesheet, we had to update and replace some of the HTML and CSS classes we were using. The last site layout we did was in 2010/2011. We’ve learned a lot since then, and didn’t always make the right choices. Going through the site in this manner gave us a good opportunity to fix some of that, and gave me even more things that weren’t broken, but weren’t quite right to fix in the future.

Everything wasn’t smooth sailing though. We ran into our fair share of roadblocks, including not knowing CSS as well as we thought we did, and losing support for Internet Explorer 7 and (and to a lesser extent 8). We have very few customers still using our site on those browsers, and we felt the trade offs are worth it. Our mobile visitors rise every month, and we want to give them an experience that’s good, instead of mediocre (or sometimes downright bad), like our old mobile site offered.

We’re also aware that it’s not going to be easy for everyone to make the adjustment, change is hard, and it’s never fun when something you use gets an update and becomes harder to use. We hope that we haven’t made it any more difficult to use, and by and large our tools haven’t changed except for cosmetic updates. We feel like in the long run, even these cosmetic changes will lead to better ease of use though.

The Coming Micro-Apartment Boom

modular construction
Source: iStock.com/unkas_photo

Urban living appeals to many, but it has long had a reputation for high rent and relatively small spaces. A new trend in urban apartment living is emerging that not only accepts the notion of tiny living, but thrives on it. Micro-apartments are becoming more common, and more popular, in some of the more appealing urban areas around the country.

Seattle, Washington has emerged as the vanguard in the micro-apartment boom, according to reporter Susan Kelleher, writing in the Seattle Times. The city boasts several thousand micro-apartment units where tenants can find a comfortable, though tiny, space of their own in the heart of the city.

Micro-apartments appeal to those who want to live alone, but still be able to afford a dwelling space in a thriving urban area. Averaging 200 to 400 square feet, micro-apartments offer compact quarters for young professionals, older residents who want to downsize, and others who prefer to live without being encumbered by a large accumulation of stuff.

Owners and investors see micro-apartments as a way to increase revenues by maximizing the amount charged per square foot of living space.

The Seattle micro-apartments have been used as examples for construction of small living spaces in other cities across the country. Des Moines, Iowa, for example, has experienced a growing interest in micro-apartment living, noted Patrick Clark in an article on the BloombergBusiness Web site.

Micro-apartments, despite their benefits for tenants and owners, don’t always have the support of the communities where they’re being built. In Seattle, for example, neighbors of some micro-apartment buildings have objected to their presence and have successfully managed to curtail the construction of more dwellings of that type.

However, the momentum in Seattle and elsewhere is largely against those established residents who may not approve of the idea of a densely occupied building full of micro-apartments.

Construction Monitor provides the most up-to-date information on trends and developments throughout the construction industry. Contact us today for more information on the increasing interest in micro-apartments and how this trend is expected to affect the housing sector in the coming months and years.

3 Tips for Keeping Your Construction Firm Running Smoothly

Spending on Construction Across U.S downWhen you manage a construction firm, your company’s profits, legal standing, and reputation all depend on your ability to coordinate the dozens of elements involved in each project.  The occasional bump in the road is inevitable, but by following a few practical managing tips for construction firms, you can keep those bumps small.

Nurture your relationships

When you have good relationships with your subcontractors, suppliers, and property owners, you will enjoy more open communication and collaboration.  Those involved in the project will be more likely to bring up minor issues before they become major problems and have more patience if the project hits a snag.  Be a friend by reaching out to pass along useful information or valuable opportunities.  To ensure no one who approaches your company leaves frustrated, teach all your staff the basics of supportive customer service and instruct them in how to handle complaints.

Take time with your contracts

Clear wording goes a long way toward preventing disputes and legal action.  Review your standard contract and make sure it contains clauses designed to protect you, such as entire agreement and non-waiver/exercise of rights clauses.  Often overlooked are escalation clauses.  These address situations in which a subcontractor can pass increased costs to the general contractor, or the GC can pass them to the owner.  Without these clauses, cost increases can eat into your profits.  Thoroughly review the contract with your client before it is finalized.  If there is any confusion or hesitation on the client’s part, be willing to re-negotiate and draw up a new contract.

Switch to managerial accounting

Financial accounting helps keep you on track with your taxes, but does nothing to advance your business.  Managerial accounting focuses on collecting financial information that allows you to make better decisions about how to run your company.  It involves tracking multiple metrics, including controllable and non-controllable costs, variable costs, and opportunity costs.  The information gleaned helps you assess your performance, moderate your risks, and strategize for future growth.

For more managing tips for construction firms, contact us at Construction Monitor.

The Sharing Economy and Heavy Equipment: Is Leasing Right For Your Company?

construction equipment
Source: iStock.com/photosbyjim

For many small to medium-sized construction companies, it makes more sense to rent some types of heavy equipment when it’s needed rather than purchasing the equipment outright. A growing trend in American commerce, that of the “sharing economy,” has the potential to significantly change heavy equipment leasing and the way construction companies acquire and use the equipment they need.

Leasing companies and rental agencies have been the traditional solution to the challenge of finding and acquiring the right equipment when it’s needed. As commercial entities, these businesses must operate on a model that allows them to generate a profit on the items they lease. Even if leasing costs are relatively high, construction companies can still benefit financially from short-term leases instead of high-dollar purchases.

The concept of the sharing economy, however, has the potential to disrupt the traditional supply chain used in equipment rental and leasing.

The sharing economy approach allows almost anyone who owns a valuable commodity to make that commodity available to others for a price. For example, companies have emerged that allow private individuals to make their personal vehicles available for transportation, bypassing traditional taxies. Others offer temporary lodging in individuals’ homes, eliminating the need for a hotel room. Often these services are less expensive than comparable services from commercial companies, and are easier to acquire through specialized software and online connections.

For construction companies, this may lead to leasing equipment from other builders rather than from a specialized agency. Construction firms with heavy equipment sitting idle can generate revenue while smaller companies can find necessary equipment at a lower price. Services that match equipment owners with companies that need that equipment have already started to emerge, according to reporter James R. Hagerty in the Economist.

Industry professionals turn to Construction Monitor for the latest news on important trends that will affect how business will get done and projects will be completed. Contact us today for more information on heavy equipment leasing and how the concepts of the sharing economy are likely to transform how companies purchase, lease, and use the equipment they need.