What Does Productivity Mean to You?

Added: 05/02/16 Author: Mark Tomlin

Productivity has been something of a hot topic in the construction press of late.
Surely, this can only be good news, after all, the recession is behind us and the industry contributes billions to the UK economy, and it seems as though there are far more major projects underway than in previous years.

Sadly, the statisticians at the ONS and the CITB don’t agree with this rosy picture.

According to the CITB’s latest Construction Skills Network Forecast, nearly 80,000 new workers are needed to meet the expected levels of demand over the next four years, an ambitious figure to say the least. What’s more, the report estimates a productivity growth rate of just 1.4% from 2016 to 2020, hardly the sort of figure you would associate with a boom in the construction industry, and the ONS’ findings aren’t much better.

According to a feature recently published by Construction News the industry hasn’t made many improvements in productivity in nearly 20 years, with output per working rising from £15,211 in Q1 1997 to £15,431 in Q3 2015. Of course, there’s slightly more to this story than meets the eye, as this doesn’t account for improvements in the quality of the work delivered or safety standards.

This raises an interesting point. Let’s say two plasterers take on identical projects and finish the job in the same amount of time, they must both be just as productive as each other, right?

Now what if the first plasterer’s application is dead level and flawless in every way, while the second makes the walls look like a cross between an Artex ceiling and an elevation model of the Appalachian Mountains? Would you say they were both just as productive for finishing work at the same time?

Of course, this is an extreme example, but quality is important for every job, and it’s often best to do the job right in the first place, rather than spending more time fixing mistakes further down the line because the initial work was done by an inexperienced worker with a strict deadline in place.

If you’ve read my previous posts then you’ll be aware that I’m a big fan of specialist workers and the advantage that they can bring to the industry. It should be obvious that a specialist in any field will be able to produce a better result than a generalist, and in the same amount of time or even more quickly.

If we’re going to advance as an industry we need to support these specialists to ensure that the quality of our work is top-notch, not just faster, after all, people put a lot more focus on the appearance of the Mona Lisa, rather than how long it took to paint.

Although it might seem like more work to have specialists working on each element of a project, provided they’re managed properly the standard of work, and productivity levels, will improve. This support is something that can be offered at all levels, for example, if product/materials suppliers know what specialists need, and stock the right items in the right branches, the downtime created by waiting for orders can be removed, helping the whole industry to move faster.