Larry Kaumeyer of Almita Industries introduced Paul Verhesen to Productivity Alberta during the province’s last economic boom. Verhesen, the president of Clark Builders was looking for solutions to the labour shortage his company was facing at the time. He found that one of the keys to addressing the labour challenges faced back then (and that Alberta is expected to face again shortly) is increasing productivity.
Verhesen is currently a member of Productivity Alberta’s industry advisory committee member and we sat down with him to get his take on construction productivity in Alberta.
PA - What did Clark Builders learn from the last boom and what are you applying this time around?
PV- I wished we learned a lot more than we did but we’re a creature of circumstance. As a general contractor, 80% of the work done on our jobsites gets done by sub-trades. So it’s really our relationship with sub-trades, where we have to help them get more productive and make their jobs faster, easier and simpler. We take the same approach to our work internally.
PA – What are some examples of Alberta’s strengths and weaknesses in construction productivity?
PV - We have got the knowledge, ability and technology to work in cold climates. That ability to work throughout the year gives Alberta an important area of expertise. Alberta firms have the ability to ramp up really fast — and unfortunately, ramp down as well. The ability to handle the demand curves that get thrown at us is unique. Most firms in the world don’t have the highs and the lows that the Alberta firms deal with, they’re much more steady.
When it comes to individual technologies, techniques or materials I would suggest that Alberta firms, ourselves included, search the world for those kinds of products or techniques that will give us an edge.
I’d also admit that our industry is slow to accept what I would call leading-edge technologies or leading-edge thinking. Our supply chain in construction has been this way for a long time, for 80-100 years. When you talk about changing supply chain philosophies to improve productivity, that is a huge nut to crack. That is a big, big issue in our world because it’s been this way for a very long time and there’s this huge pressure not to change.
PA - What are you excited about technology-wise?
PV - Building Information Modeling (BIM) is gaining steam in our industry and it’s going to add a whole new dimension to the construction process. In my opinion there is going to be another expert who will be part of the process of building a building and that will be a BIM Technologist. That individual is going to be challenged with building buildings in a 3D virtual world so that when they get built physically there isn’t any changes, any issues in the process. If we could eliminate changes during the construction process we would be so much more productive. When you start changing on the fly there is no rhythm, no momentum, a change can literally stop the construction process.
You can model energy use, life-cycling, you can model whatever you want. The cost of this is next to nothing. You perfect it in the virtual world so that when you build it in the physical world, you build it once and you build it correctly and it all works.
PA - What’s your take on pre-fabrication and some of the productivity gains we’re seeing from companies like Landmark Homes.
PV - Landmark would be leading-edge or even bleeding-edge when it comes to that. They’re investing in a plant. They’re investing in modular construction. The team over there believes in that and they’re prepared to invest in that belief and that’s very innovative.
However it’s more of a manufacturing approach. On the commercial construction side we don’t have the reputation in our construction process that Landmark has in their manufacturing process. Every building that we build is a one-off. Now, are there components within a building that we can modularize? Absolutely, and that’s where BIM is going to help us.
PA - As a member of the advisory committee what have you learned or picked up?
PV - I got introduced to Productivity Alberta by Larry Kaumeyer (at Almita Industries) and in that time it was still the boom and we were looking for answers to the labour shortage we were facing back then and the labour shortage that some suggest we are already in again. The answers that I believe in and that Clark implements to deal with the labour situation are around recruiting, innovation and productivity. The productivity angle for us is a natural and hence my desire and willingness to participate in Productivity Alberta.
Productivity has always been misunderstood. It’s not just pounding more nails or shoveling more dirt; it’s being innovative, creative and opening your mind to new ideas and that’s why Productivity Alberta appeals to me. It becomes a gathering point for best practices and lessons learned. All of that information is so important and as the old saying goes, ‘information is power’. That is so true when it comes to productivity.