Less than two years ago, we launched our weekly blog as a way to share our expertise with the community. Never in a million years did we think we could reach and connect on a deeper level with so many people, both inside and outside of the company walls. We asked ourselves, what more could we do? If you know us, you know that we are never satisfied with “good enough.” With that, we are excited to announce that we are launching our first ever podcast, The Perlo Podcast!
For full episodes you can visit our YouTube page or search “The Perlo Podcast” wherever you get your podcasts.
Welcome to the first episode of the Perlo Podcast with host Elissa Looney, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Perlo Construction. With a goal to bring insights into the commercial construction industry through conversations with a variety of leaders, Elissa is joined by Chris McLaughlin, Vice President of Preconstruction Services; Todd Duwe, Vice President of Business Development; and Dennis Bonin, Safety Manager.
Since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry has shifted in a variety of ways, including how we operate, how we communicate, and our openness to new technologies. We’ve seen increased labor shortages, inflationary pressures, and supply chain constraints. The adaptation that the construction industry has shown is, as Elissa puts it, “nothing short of revolutionary.”
Effects on the Environment of Safety
Dennis, Safety Manager, shares his perspective on how COVID-19 and health concerns have affected safety, noting that the most significant impact he has seen is in managing a balance between the different local, state, federal, and individual client regulations. As each jobsite is unique, it is crucial to know what regulations need to be enforced and the guidelines that need to be followed.
Dennis also comments that managing a workforce with personal protective equipment and social distancing requirements has been a challenge. Because many crew members have been rigorously trained in a specific way to help one another, the sudden inability to have two people working in close proximity to each other has been jarring. This has required team members to “relearn” how to do these tasks and what the priorities are to get the job done efficiently under the appropriate guidelines.
The compliance drift has also become a complication we’re currently facing. We started off strong regarding compliance to new regulations, but as jobsites have remained relatively clean, crew members are starting to let their guard down just as we see an increase in new COVID-19 variants.
Although we’ve seen many challenges arise, Elissa notes that some positive aspects of these regulations include paying closer attention to sanitization. While there may have been a bit of drift on jobsites, these sanitization efforts have greatly improved, and we expect to see these remain long after COVID-19 is a factor.
Market Sector Changes and Cost Observations
Elissa switches focus over to Todd, Vice President of Business Development, to find out what he has noticed regarding how market sectors have changed over the past couple of years. Duwe remarks, “Two years ago, it felt like the world was going to drop out. Nobody knew what to expect.” He notes that the market quickly reacted, with some, such as the e-commerce sector, even accelerating. As a result, the industrial market took off, and, especially in the Northwest, we are seeing interest from national developers continue to grow.
Looking at the supply chain constraints, Todd points out that these issues are on a global scale, as many manufactured materials are made abroad. This is a week-by-week challenge but is driving manufacturers to move stateside.
Elissa inquires what the future looks like for the cost of construction materials. Chris, Vice President of Preconstruction Services, makes one particular comment that stands out – costs are not volatile, as they aren’t going down, they are only going up; it’s just a matter of how fast. According to Chris, some items have tripled in cost, while others have stayed relatively flat. At the end of 2021, we heard a lot of inflationary news that would eventually trickle into the construction industry. When asked what the present reality is of updating the price index and how often it has been changing, Chris emphasizes, “It’s down to the day.”
Changes in the Workforce and Sustainability
There are currently many efforts underway to increase diversity in our industry. According to Todd, it ultimately comes down to increasing exposure to our industry and the potential opportunities in construction. This is being done primarily in schools. Schools are starting to incorporate more programs that emphasize CTE – career technical education. Schools are giving students the opportunity to participate in trade-based classes, such as woodshop, welding, and even cooking, all in an effort to show students that there are many opportunities for great careers.
According to Dennis, the two groups of people that have been most impacted by COVID-19 are the elderly and workers that are young parents. We have lost a few of our veteran employees that have chosen not to come back to work due to being at a higher risk. Parents have experienced daycares shutting down and have been required to stay at home to provide care to their children. Some of these people have experienced home-life or found other things they can do from home and are therefore not coming back to the construction industry.
We are also looking at how the industry is approaching the reduction of our footprint in terms of sustainability, regarding both the environment and our workforce. We have seen that younger generations that are coming into the workforce are more focused on seeing sustainable practices and emphasizing more of a work-life balance. We’ve seen this be gradual, but recently it has gained a lot of attention. Consumers are more focused on where their products are coming from, and companies looking to relocate are looking for more sustainable options.
One example of where the industry is implementing these changes is with mass timber. This building product is a renewable product and is something we’ve seen implemented more often as client demand requires. Todd considers this innovation as an opportunity to learn something new.
Advancements in Technology
Different technologies will not cause us to lose jobs but, rather, will create new jobs that are more technologically based. The technology that we’ve seen on the safety side is an exciting prospect as well. Electronic and battery-operated tools have reduced safety hazards associated with extension cords and other risks. However, we’ve seen that employees are losing proficiency with simple hand tools such as a hammer, which makes it a double-edged sword.
We are also using new technologies, such as the Building Image Modeling (BIM), to identify safety hazards and plan out where things like safety tie-offs should go in advance. The basic technology in the construction site has progressed so much in the last decade, that now Superintendents on the jobsite have technology that allows them to conference in architects and engineers on the spot to show them a situation and come up with a solution almost immediately. All of this innovation eliminates the number of materials that are going into the building, thereby decreasing our overall footprint within the building and in the environment.
Elissa ends with a “rapid-fire” question directed at the guests:
Elissa: “Do you see the pace of change within the construction industry continuing to accelerate so quickly, like it has in the last couple of years, as we move forward?”
Chris: “I want to say no. It’s been really hard to keep up, but we’ve always done it, so it has got to be a yes.”
Todd: “Yes. Emphatic yes.”
Dennis: “Definitely a yes.”