The risks of having the incorrect staff
I’ve sometimes been guilty of under-staffing my construction projects. The risk with that is:
1. if a member of staff falls ill or resigns there’s nobody who can take on an additional roll
2. tasks are rushed because people don't have sufficient time because they are doing too many things at once, resulting in mistakes and items being overlooked
3. staff work under pressure, and long hours, which may lead to them resigning
Obviously having too many staff leads to:
1. higher project costs which were not allowed for
2. staff becoming unhappy due to boredom and feeling underutilised
Obviously having staff with the wrong skills or those that don't have the required experience can also create major problems
Factors that affect a construction project's staffing requirements
The numbers of staff and their positions on a construction project depend on a number of factors, such as the:
1. number of construction work areas – each work area may require its own Supervisor
2. numbers of workers required to complete the work – there is often an optimum number of workers that a supervisor can look after
3. available skills of the construction workers – if the workers are poorly skilled or inexperienced they usually require more supervision to ensure they perform their tasks correctly and safely
4. complexity of the construction project – more complex projects may require more Engineers and Supervisors while a project which is simple or has lots of repartition may be easier to manage
5. relative locations of the work areas and their distance apart – travelling between different work areas can make Supervisors time unproductive or mean workers are left standing waiting for instructions when the Supervisor is on another distant part of the project
6. client requirements – some clients specify the minimum ratio of Supervisors to workers, while others may dictate that they require dedicated individuals to specific tasks, even though the contractor wouldn’t normally have a dedicated person
7. contract reporting requirements – some clients and project managers may require elaborate and detailed regular reports which can be time consuming for the contractor to prepare
8. skills and experience of the available staff – more experienced staff may be able to supervise a larger work area with more workers
9. project schedule (or programme/program) – fast-track construction projects of high intensity may need more supervision
10. quality and experience of the client and their design team – projects where the client has to be assisted, or where information is late or of a poor quality often require more input from the contractor, and projects with multiple claims and variations may require additional contracts administration staff
Staff numbers also depend on the different skills and disciplines required. For instance in the civil industry Supervisors may only be skilled in earthworks, while others are skilled in concrete works, electrically orientated, or more suited to building trades. If you can employ a Supervisor skilled in a multitude of disciplines, there’s often a reduction in the number of staff required.
To assist with calculating staff requirements prepare a project organisational chart. This shows the different levels and types of management required, the reporting structures, as well as the different roles and responsibilities. In addition the chart could indicate whether the staff are required full-time or shared between projects, and if they are Head Office or site-based positions.
Remember also that if the project has to work nights, or weekends, additional staff will be required to supervise and manage these shifts.
It’s necessary that careful thought goes into correctly staffing your construction project to achieve the best balance of efficiencies and costs. In Australia for instance, the cost of a Supervisor is not much greater than some craft workers, so it may pay in some cases to have more supervision just to improve the efficiencies of the workers.
Once you have determined the number and types of skills required you can begin sourcing the best people to fill the positions. This is a topic which I will deal with later.
(Paul Netscher is the author of the acclaimed books ‘Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide’ and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide’. Both books are available in paperback and E-book from Amazon and other retail outlets. This article is adapted from his book ‘Successful Construction Project Management’)