Introducing Seasoned Subcontractors to Technology

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There is an age gap in the construction industry, and we’ve got a pretty good idea of where it came from. Between 2006 and 2011 the construction industry lost around 2.3 million jobs. Most of those that lost their jobs were tradespeople who had a few years in the business but hadn’t really established themselves as masters of their craft yet. Once the recession hit, they went looking for different work and, once they found it, they didn’t come back to construction. That left the older generation who already had established clientele to pick up the slack.

However, as it always does, the market bounced back and gained momentum. Once the next generation of workers, Millennials, found out that there were high-paying jobs in the construction sector, they flocked to construction management and engineering programs. In turn, these programs started churning out more graduates than ever before. Therefore, while the field is still predominantly populated with seasoned workers, the office is hiring younger and younger.

This led to an unexpected problem: construction companies hiring younger field engineers and project managers also hire their ideas, namely, an affinity for using technology. In fact, many of the college-level construction management programs build field management technologies like Raken, Procore, and Bluebeam right into their curricula. However, the vast majority of superintendents and foremen in the field are over 60 years old and, as Baby Boomers, don’t share the same rosy outlook on new technologies.

So how do you get these two vastly different generations to not only communicate, but to do it well?

We went into the field and talked with project managers, superintendents and foremen to get their tips on how to introduce technology to the field. Check out the video below for what they had to say.

Getting Subs to use Tech

1. Don’t Hate the Past to Feed the Future

As a younger project engineer or manager you need to get daily reports, time cards, safety briefings, or material tracking sheets from people that have been doing them on pen and paper for 30 years. It can be tempting to step onto a new site, look around at your more seasoned foremen, and start shaking your head about how difficult it is to get them to use anything they’re not familiar with.

Let’s face it, you’re lucky if you get the reports at all. It’s more common that you’ll have to go out into the field and collect them yourself, which can mean hours out of your day. And when you actually get the handwritten reports, they’ll likely not be complete or the handwriting will be smudged which makes it hard to read. Then you’ve got the joy of transcribing all that data into the computer at the end of your day when everyone else has gone home.

However, before you go ahead and start blaming your older subcontractors and foremen for not being quick to pick up the new technology you’ve given them, remember this: they’ve worked hard to become so experienced at what they do and in today’s construction labor market, skilled labor is hard to find. So instead of thinking about how this technology can benefit you in the office, think instead about how it can benefit them in the field. That's the first step.

2. Focus on Saving Time in the Field

If doing the paperwork isn’t your favorite part of the day, we can guarantee it’s not your subcontractor’s favorite either. No one that we know of got into construction because they love paperwork.

Filling out construction daily reports, time cards, toolbox talks, and material tracking sheets are a pain for the foremen out in the field, too. If they’re hesitant to use new technologies, it’s probably because they don’t see how it’s going to benefit them: they’ll first have to learn how to enter their information into this new system, which can take anywhere from weeks to months. While they're spending time figuring out a new system a mountain of paperwork is getting bigger and bigger every day.

That’s why, when you are introducing technology to older subcontractors, focus on how this technology will actually save them time. Communicate the benefits like not having to come back to the trailer to fill out your reports. Have them imagine how simple it would be to have it right on their phone so they can be filling it out throughout the day.

Introducing Subs to Tech

3. Keep it Simple

This is the most important part about introducing older subcontractors to construction management technology: it’s not going to save them time if they can’t figure out how to use it. You don't want to tell them that it'll save them time only to realize that they'll only see the benefit after they go through extensive training.

But, if you go with a simple app that gets the job done without all the onboarding of a larger, clunkier system you’ll increase adoption even among the most seasoned and stubborn subcontractors.

DJ Mason, General Superintendent at Tri-State General Contractors, says, “The immediate test we used with Raken was that we gave it to one of our technologically challenged superintendents," he states, "and within five minutes he was excited about his day again. He felt like this was a tool that would make him look more professional, increase his ability to communicate well, and not take as much time for him to do that. He was rejuvenated about his day, and that was pretty cool to see."

By using a simple app, like Raken, Mason was able to get even the most seasoned veteran to embrace new technology and start using it to fill out better reports in less time.

4. Lead the Way

Construction, as a general rule, has been slow to adopt new technologies. However, with a younger workforce slowly becoming more prevalent and working from the top of the organization down, there is a real chance to change the way the industry operates. Field management technologies are the low-hanging fruit of introducing time-saving techniques to your field workers, using them to be more efficient, and gaining more visibility into what’s happening out there.

By sharing their frustrations, focusing on how it will save them time, and making sure that they have a smooth, simple experience, you can introduce technology on any project. Then, you’ll immediately start seeing the benefits that come from everybody being on the same page.