Skilled Labor Decline

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you already know I seem to talk a lot about the lack of skilled labor in the construction industry. Now people outside of the industry are starting to join in the discussion. Here is an article from The Watchdog about this very topic. It seems there is also a trend to rename the so-called “blue collar” jobs to the “silver collar”. This is in part to the high starting salaries being reported. I say we need to do whatever it takes to get people to realize the important role that skilled workers play in the labor force.

Rise of the “silver collar” workforce: When a four-year degree isn’t the right move

By Rob Nikolewski │

This may come as bad news for parents who have spent tens of thousands of dollars sending their kids to expensive universities, but one path for young people getting a good job requires just a two-year degree or, in some cases, no college degree at all.

“The reality is, most jobs do not require a four-year college degree,” said William C. Symonds, executive director at the Global Pathways Institute at Arizona State. “What they do require is some solid technical skills. And the best way to get those is at a program lasting two years or less.”

The average amount of college student loan debt rose last year to an average of $28,400 while an increasing number of graduates either can’t find work or are working at jobs that don’t even require a bachelor’s degree to begin with, leaving many of them — their parents included — wondering if they’ve wasted their money.

“I think we made a real mistake as a country moving away from the vocational school option, absolutely. That’s where many of the jobs are needed,” said Symonds, whose organization concentrates on fixing what he’s called the “disconnect between education and business.” 

“There was so much emphasis on going to four-year schools, we have the highest college dropout rate in the world and the costs are out of control and students are taking on a lot of debt,” Symonds told in a telephone interview.

While it’s true statistics show that overall, those with bachelor’s degree and higher tend to make more money than those who don’t, there are some fields where workers who received associate’s degrees in two years — or certifications that can take as little as six weeks — are making good livings.

“I think we lost focus on the fact that middle-skill jobs also pay reasonably well,”  said David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, based in Colorado. “You get to them much quicker and for many people, the nature of the work is rewarding than the work that comes with a a bachelor’s degree because you’re working with your hands.”

Oh, By The Way… The article is continued here. After you finish reading it, come back and let me know what you think.

Estimators Sharing Experiences Part 2

I have received a lot of stories from my previous blog, in which I invited all of you to share the news of recent projects, run-ins with other professionals, and obstinate owners. I loved to hear these stories too and hope you keep sharing! So let me know your estimating anecdotes. Share them here, so that we all might learn a thing or two, or at least share a laugh.

 This one came from a friend of mine. He told me he had a recent run in with an architect. The estimator and architect came up with different numbers when they were looking at an excavation project. The architect had his answer in cubic feet and the estimator had his in cubic yards. After a little number comparison the estimator thought he had discovered the problem, so he asked “Do you know how many cubic feet are in a cubic yard?” At that point the architect scoffed, “Nine.”

At this point, I can just imagine my friend closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before he, as politely as possible, said, “Well, that’s a very popular answer. It’s not right, but a lot of people think it is!”

3D Printing in Construction

There is no denying how cool 3-D printers are, and people have been creating amazing things with them. It seems imagination is only the limit when we see life saving medical devices, prosthetic limbs, musical instruments, and dinosaur bones. Well, the construction industry can’t be left out! Here is an article about an architect/contractor who is planning to build an entire estate with 3-D printing.

3-D Printing In Construction



Estimators Sharing Experiences

The thing I enjoy most about getting together with other estimators is the stories. We estimators love to share the news of recent projects, run-ins with other professionals, and obstinate owners. And we love to hear these stories too! So let me know your estimating anecdotes. Share them here so that we all might learn a thing or two, or at least share a laugh.

business men trio red frame

I will start. On one particular project, the owner was confused when comparing our numbers to the architect’s numbers. It seemed that questions arose with the number of light fixtures. The architect had exactly four times the number that I had supplied. This was quite a discrepancy. So the plans and specs were re-reviewed to see what was going on. I felt confident in Tempest’s number, since I had estimated the project, but I was comparing it to the number stated by the architect who had designed the building! After just a small bit of review, the mystery was quickly solved. The Tempest number was accurate to the number of light fixtures. The architect’s number was accurate too… if the task at hand had been to calculate the number of light bulbs.


Craft Labor Shortage

There is no way to deny it; there is a craft labor shortage. Other industries have had this same problem. The farming industry is one that is doing something about it. Something that I would call revolutionary in terms of solving the problem! This article talks about agrobots. What’s an agrobot? Read here to find out more.

What is the construction industry going to do? Training people takes time and you need to have people available and willing to work before you can train them. One way to do more with less people is prefabrication or modular construction. Pieces are built off site and brought onsite to be installed as complete systems or components that just need to be attached and final connections made.

Oh by the way… There is a saying that necessity is the mother of invention and I feel that with the labor shortage it is only time before the way we build will change forever.

“Build It And They Will Come” Construction Method

This article offers an interesting look at something I saw on my trip to China that I took 2 years ago. While we were on our way to meetings we noticed completed buildings standing completely vacant. And it wasn’t just one or two buildings, entire districts were eerily empty. The Chinese government is taking a different approach to the typical development of areas. It looks like they are trying for the “if you build it they will come” approach. Read the article from Reuters to find out more.

The Myth of China’s Ghost Cities



Avoiding Takeoff Headaches

One way that you can really mess up an estimate is by assuming that the floor to ceiling height is all the same.  Checking sections of the building really comes into play, when you are working off of the mechanical, plumbing and electrical drawings.  When you are routing the pipe or conduit, you really need to know how high the ceilings are. You can run into a multi-story atrium or gymnasium, and that will make your runs of pipe or conduit longer.  Also, if you are running underground or under the slab, and there happens to be a partial basement, you will either need to change materials or route the pipe or conduit around the area.

Before I start to takeoff, I will review the plans and highlight the areas that have different heights, so when I am doing the takeoff I can either route the items around the area, or account for the changes in the quantities.  Highlighting different areas is necessary on buildings that have different space requirements like jails, classified work and medical facilities.

Taking just a few minutes in the beginning to review and understand your plans can save you a lot of headaches and hassle later!


Estimators – What Are They Good For?

Have you seen this one? Here is a look back at a blog from 2010.

I always like it when someone asks us about our project experience.  Do you specialize in or have you done a {insert type of facility here}?  How many?  What makes you an expert on these?  I actually have to tell them we are not experts for any particular type of project.  We are estimators with a broad range of experience.  Some of that experience just happens to, or may, coincide with your project type.  The experience ranges from setting budgets to estimating change orders and claims.

People find it hard to believe that someone that does not specialize in {insert type of facility here} can estimate the costs of the project.  I try to explain that estimating is a profession just like theirs.  Only my profession specializes in knowing how to develop budgets, manage the costs during design and prepare bids that are reliable for {insert type of facility here} and many other types of projects.

While those of us in the estimating profession can talk and joke about crystal ball gazing and dart boards, these are not tools of the professional estimator.  Nor do we issue WAGS, SWAGS or other guesses.  Each of our estimates is meant to be an informed opinion as to the estimated costs on a project.

In order to do this, we must study the project requirements.  Our method to do this is to read and understand the project documentation.  The project documentation, from the initial concept and program statements through to the bidding stage and closeout define the cost conditions that are applicable to the project.   We must know how things are built when there is minimal information so we can fill in the missing pieces.  We need to assess this information to make a determination as to the amount of contingency to carry prior to having the design finalized.

Estimators can be on the fringe of {insert type of facility here} experience.  If they have the estimating knowledge and experience then true project cost control can be exercised from budget through bidding to project completion.  That’s what estimators are good for!

Oh by the Way…I would put forth that prior to a project being bid, the only people to look at all of the plans, sections, details, specifications, contract terms, etc. are the estimators.  They will know the job better than the architect, engineer and owner.  This is one reason why estimators have so many questions when preparing an estimate.

Partial Design Estimates

With a partially designed project you can still get a detailed estimate. This is one of the best types of estimates to do if you are trying to control costs prior to construction. The partial design estimates can be done at the following design milestones or with the Design Build approach.

  • Schematic Design Milestone
  • Design Development Milestone

With an estimate that has a high level of detail during the design, decisions can be made about the project. When you perform multiple estimates during the design, variances can be identified and informed actions taken to keep the project within cost and schedule parameters.

Tempest Company partial design estimates contain a high degree of detail and information. The amount of detail contained in our estimates can often exceed the information contained on the plans or in the specifications! When a series of estimates are prepared for a project by Tempest, the scope and costs can be monitored for the entire design period through to the end of construction.

Sample Estimate less than 100% designed

These estimates can be prepared for the following:

  • Detailed Feasibility Estimate (typically less than 1% design completion)
  • Schematic Design Estimate (typically less than 5% design completion)
  • Design Development Estimate (approximately 35 to 60% design completion)
  • Design Build Estimate

Everybody Benefits From Experienced Estimators

The materials on a construction project do not care where they are installed.  The price of a 2 x 4 is the same on the first floor and the third floor.  The price for 3/4” copper pipe can be the same for one project as another.  Anyone can call and get pricing on materials, whether they are list prices or trade prices.  What matters on a project is the amount of time to install the materials.  Anyone, and everyone for that matter, seems to be doing that too.  But to get the right answer, whether for a budget or a bid estimate, it takes a knowledgeable and skilled estimator.  chalk board key successConstruction companies have to contend with owners and developers that do not use estimators to establish budgets.  The owners often rely upon architects and engineers that do not use estimators.  This creates many problems.  The project owners have to worry about irresponsible contractors and their low bids.  This is another big headache.

If the budget is set too low, the project will definitely be delayed and it may not even be built.  If the budget is set too high, what features could have been added to the scope?  What other project was shelved due to a lack of funding?  If the low bidder is way under the other bidders, what was left out of the bid?  Will the low bidder be able to complete the job?

From Architects to Owners, the entire construction process can benefit from experienced estimators.