Online Learning Platform Offers Building Trades Job Site Training

Enough ink has spilled over construction's skilled workforce crisis to make Johannes Gutenberg weep in his grave. The challenge ranks as a true and painful echo chamber issue, and the time to act on it, rather than sweat out its impact and talk about the problem, is now.

The News

On3, residential construction's first field-based learning and training platform that users can access entirely on mobile devices now offers construction contractor and subcontractor team members in the field personalized construction instruction options designed specifically to the task at-hand. How about getting a job site super fully trained up in less than nine months, as opposed to the typical 18 to 20 months it takes these days?

On3's course modules – most of them 3-minute-or-less "microlearning" how-to flashcards, checklists, guides, diagrams, illustrations, and videos – make up a searchable array of simplified recipe-like guides to progressing a new-home construction lifecycle end-to-end, from structure to systems, and from foundation to finishes.

Per On3

Utilizing advanced mobile-based AI technology, On3 verifies each employee’s knowledge level and changes the learning path for each person based on their competencies. On3 also spot checks employees for critical knowledge and brushes up their skills automatically. This level of technology provides your company with unprecedented power to improve quality, reduce warranty expenses, and speed-up new employee on-boarding.

Why It Matters to Builders

Better, faster, safer building – the essence of capability – is getting squeezed as attrition among older, more-skilled team members accelerates, and as more junior labor force workers become scarcer, and harder to keep engaged. The 2022 version of the challenge – moving and ever-more-threatening target that it is – is different than it was last year, or the prior year, or the three to five years before that.  

The simplest reason to say that is that new home construction activity is expected to increase as capability – a weighted formula of headcount, skills-and-experience levels, availability, local housing activity, etc. – continues to deteriorate.

Those balances – never static – now undergo even more stress than before, partly because some fair amount of what should have been last year's work needs now to be done this year, and partly because this year, builders promise even more volume than in 2021.

Just this week, data from the Labor Department tells a story for construction's hiring, layoffs, quits, and open positions with very little, if any, silver lining. Yes, a seasonally-driven sequential improvement reduced unfilled positions in construction from 445,000 in October 2021, to 345,000 in November of the same year. However, the more telling data narrative comes through on a year-to-year comparison.

  • open headcount positions in construction increased 32% year-over-year in November 2021.
  • as Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders notes:

Quits increased somewhat in construction, rising to 207,000 in November, a data series high.

Dietz's commentary foreshadows tightening screws of stress on residential construction start-to-completion capability within the calendar year:

Looking forward, the construction job openings rate is likely to see increased upward pressure as both the residential and nonresidential construction sectors trend higher. Attracting skilled labor will remain a key objective for construction firms in the coming quarters and will become more challenging as the labor market strengthens and the unemployment rate declines.

What's more, a phenomenon that had been plaguing the construction fields for a decade – the incredibly shrinking pool of teens, 20-somethings, and other next-generation talent choosing building as a livelihood – now weighs even more heavily on capability for three critical reasons.

  • A systemic shift in livelihoods as evidenced in the Great Resignation phenomenon, impacting all industries simultaneously.
  • Pandemic-era labor force participation rate declines among older adults hits particularly hard in the construction fields, as its the older, more jobsite-experienced skilled workers who account for greater productivity, quality, and velocity on the jobs, and also impact the output of more junior, less-experience, less skilled workers around them.
  • By the end of 2022, infrastructure projects that get green-lighted under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could begin siphoning skilled and semi-skilled laborers from residential construction sites to better-paying opportunities on government-backed projects.

Fact is, builders need immediate tactics to shore up capability to produce homes while longer-term solutions to the talent crisis – cultural, technological, training, cultivation, and career-pathing – find their respective fast-tracks of support and development.

Industrialized factory-based manufacturing processes, innovations in installation and building materials, kit-of-parts component and panel assembly, together with an all-out blitz to reintroduce livelihoods in construction as a pathway to career satisfaction, engagement, and fulfillment ... these are the bigger-picture solutions a growing community of business stakeholders have committed to and invested in.

Meanwhile, there's now. A no-huddle offense period for operators working on an audibles-basis to adapt to the conditions of the day and progress their projects at full-day measures of productivity.

Against that backdrop, new technology and a new approach to unpacking big challenges a detail at a time, emerges as something of a tactical lifeline, one homebuilding enterprises can adapt and customize to product lines, design and engineering details, and day-to-day installation variations that may occur as supply chain disruptions alter product and materials specs through the building cycle.

The On3 team has a deep knowledge of the end-to-end construction process," says Paul Cardis, On3 ceo and cofounder. "To make these modules valuable, we had to make them retrievable without friction, as easy as a Google or YouTube search, and cater to the specific competence level of the user, which we do through our machine learning algorithms to match the content to the skillset, and lastly, we had to be capable of delivering the app whatever the location despite wifi signal variances, to make it resilient for all job sites."

What's more, paired with a smart headset partner – like the one On3 has engaged as a certified development partner and reseller of the Vuzix Smart Glasses hardhats – modules and two-way supervisor-team member quality assurance can run as extension of the On3 Capture application which runs on standard mobile devices, says Cardis.

Already, D.R. Horton, the DRB Group, Epcon Communities, Challenger Homes, Red Door Homes, and Woodside Homes are among homebuilding organizations that have partnered with On3 to deploy the On3 app among contractor teams, and to generate their own field guide content for their product lines.

With our courseware and its in-field applications, we're cutting down onboarding time by half, and we're also tracking material improvements in warranty and repair and redos," says Cardis. "We're shooting to get onboarding down to eight or nine months, and continue to secure better metrics on the first-time quality front as we prove the model out in 2022."

For builders, who'll continue to battle supply chain disruptions and other schedule elongation risks at every turn this year, it's one way out of the echochamber of talking about capacity constraint.

By: John McManus, The Builders Daily, Jan. 06, 2022