Reshaping the Construction Industry

What goes into the structural design of the skyscrapers being built around the world today? A better question might be, “Who designs the structure of those skyscrapers to withstand the heat, winds, earthquakes and hurricanes that pummel those towers we live and work in every day?” The answer is that there are some really talented engineers who study, design, test and retest the possible solutions to meet those challenges.

Tom Curwen and his team of reporters are tracking the design and construction of the Wilshire Grand Center in LA in a series of amazing articles that documents some of the unsung design, engineering and construction heroes responsible for the 900 room hotel and office building at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Figeroa Street.    Read more » about Wilshire Grand Center – Being Built to Survive the Next Big LA Earthquake

It has been almost a year since I became the executive director of Construction Career Collaborative (C3). While I have learned a great deal during that short period of time, my biggest take away is that everyone with whom I have spoken agrees that the issue of creating a sustainable craft workforce is critical to the future of the commercial construction industry and all of those connected to it.

For many trades, the complexity of this issue is the challenge (lack of craft and safety training, misclassification of craft workers as subcontractors thereby avoiding payment of overtime and payroll taxes such as social security, and not providing employee benefits or workers’ compensation insurance coverage, all in the pursuit of low bid and covered up by a seeming limitless supply of undocumented workers who labor in the shadows, which depresses wages). All of which is why C3 needs the leadership and support of a critical mass of organizations in the A/E/C industry in order overcome it. We all must recognize that there is no quick resolution to a workforce problem that has been compounding itself for more than 30 years and that will require perseverance and sheer numbers of people who believe in the cause to correct it.    Read more » about Achieving Critical Mass

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced that he was going to propose a plan to Congress which would make “the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it.”  He stated the importance of education not just for kids, but also to offer the opportunity for everybody to become better trained so that they could receive better jobs, wages, and benefits.  During his annual State of the Union Address on January 20, he explained why he believes this plan is so important.  He said,

“To make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills.

“America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world.  But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more.   Read more » about Can Free Community College Close the Skills Gap?

Contractors, corporate economists show optimism; 2014 Dodge starts rose moderately

Editor’s note: Construction Citizen is proud to partner with AGC America to bring you AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson's Data DIGest. Check back each week to get Ken's expert analysis of what's happening in our industry.

Contractors are more optimistic about the overall state of construction in 2015 than in the previous five years, according to an annual Construction Outlook Survey that AGC released on Wednesday. Of the 912 respondents from AGC member companies, 80% said they expect an increase in their firms' headcount in 2015, while only 7% expect a decrease. About 60% expect the construction market to grow in 2015, while 21% expect growth to resume in 2016. Respondents were asked if they expect the dollar volume that they compete for to be higher or lower in 2015. Predictions of higher volume outnumber lower    Read more » about AGC's Data DIGest: January 19-26, 2015

The following article originally appeared in the January newsletter to clients of Kiley Advisors, LLC for the purpose of providing the latest leading indicators and industry issues to those clients.  Reprinted with permission.

Oil prices have dampened the outlook for 2015.  Reports of delayed or indefinitely postponed projects are already being heard.  While coming off of a record year, 2015 will not be a continuation of 2014.

Office and retail are both expected to taper off from their astounding number of projects and housing demand is expected to ease as the lower oil prices will likely result in a dip in consumer confidence.  However, schools and medical construction are both expected to rise in 2015, playing catch up with the residential and commercial growth over the past few years.  Light industrial is also expected to remain strong, as the preparation for the Panama Canal expansion and ethylene plants and LNG come online in 2017 and 2018, respectively.   Read more » about Houston’s Monthly Metrics: January

A report from a bipartisan panel of Texas lawmakers says companies that pretend their employees are independent subcontractors are undermining free markets and encouraging illegal immigration, among other serious problems. The practice of worker misclassification, as Construction Citizen has reported many times, happens when an employer intentionally skirts the law by paying workers as independent subcontractors when they meet the legal definition of employees and should be paid as such.

Preventing workers from being paid as employees denies them basic protections and costs taxpayers millions each year because employers are avoiding payroll taxes on that labor. Employers who follow the law are investing in a sustainable workforce, which is undermined by worker misclassification. Many of those ethical employers have urged lawmakers to do more to contain what they’ve called “a cancer” in the heart of the construction industry.

So, the Texas House Business and Industry Committee this past year took an in-depth look at the issue, including testimony from construction industry leaders, labor advocates and others who are united in combating misclassification. Read more » about Texas House Panel finds that worker misclassification “compromises free markets” and promotes “lawlessness”

Houston is growing, and with that growth comes jobs. More jobs mean a stronger economy. But as employers have a difficult time finding qualified, skilled workers, San Jacinto College steps in offering affordable training for the hard-to-fill middle-skills jobs.

San Jacinto College is working with UpSkill Houston, an industry-led workforce development program launched earlier this month by the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) aimed at filling the need for skilled workers in the Gulf Coast region. It is a blue print for leaders across the board – in the business community, at educational institutions, and within social service organizations – to build a quality workforce that meets employers’ needs. The initiative is supported by a $250,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase, the largest ever private-sector effort aimed at addressing the skills gap.    Read more » about San Jacinto College Helping to Fill Skills Gap

Most of us drive by skyscrapers in major cities without ever thinking about how they stand up. In Los Angeles and most other major cities, they have to stand up to the politics, the winds, the storms, the earthquakes, and an occasional change of developer, owner and/or General Contractor, especially in landmark $1 billion projects.

On the new Wilshire Grand Center in LA, almost all of those factors came into play over the years before construction even began. What started with a handshake in true Texas style between two USC graduates is now becoming the tallest tower west of the Mississippi River, but that journey has been quite turbulent at times.

Last week, we posted a commentary on the outstanding writing of Thomas Curwen at the LA Times on the chronology of the Big pour, the record setting 18-foot deep concrete and steel mat placed five stories below street level that will support the new Wilshire Grand Center, scheduled for completion in 2016. Before the old hotel could be torn down and the city block excavated, lots of turbulence had already occurred. Curwen tells several stories in the second article that are intertwined into an interesting plot that made me wonder whether and how the building would come alive. 

The original project, designed by Chris Martin’s firm A.C. Martin, planned to tear down the existing hotel and to build two towers: a hotel and an office tower. The original developer selected by the owner Yang Ho Cho, CEO of KAL, for the project was Thomas Properties.    Read more » about There Is More To The Story Than The Tower

Construction Career Collaborative continues to gain momentum. During the past year, the Board of Directors of C3 approved 52 contractors as Accredited Employers, including nine general contractors and 43 specialty contractors. In addition, eight companies were approved as Project Participants, all of whom are working on the C3 project, Texas Children’s Hospital - The Woodlands. But, we still have much, much more work to do in order to achieve our goal of creating a sustainable workforce for the commercial construction industry. In fact, we have hardly started.

The next step in our growth is to hire an Operations Manager. We are looking for someone with experience in the construction industry that fits the qualifications listed in the job description below. If you, or someone you know, fit these qualifications, please consider this job opportunity.

Position Description for the C3 Operations Manager:
Construction Career Collaborative is an alliance of socially responsible Owners, Contractors and Specialty Contractors whose mission is to positively affect the issues facing the craft worker for the commercial construction industry.    Read more » about Construction Career Collaborative (C3) is Hiring!

PPI falls in 2014; mixed price changes loom; nonresidential construction pay accelerates

Editor’s note: Construction Citizen is proud to partner with AGC America to bring you AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson's Data DIGest. Check back each week to get Ken's expert analysis of what's happening in our industry.

If you have not already, please help AGC craft its 2015 Construction Business Outlook and take this short survey.

The producer price index (PPI) for final demand decreased 0.4%, not seasonally adjusted (-0.3%, seasonally adjusted), in December and increased 1.1% for the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on Thursday. AGC posted an explanation and tables focusing on construction prices and costs. Final demand includes goods, services and five types of nonresidential buildings that BLS says make up 34% of total construction. There are no indexes yet for other building types, or for residential or nonbuilding construction.    Read more » about AGC's Data DIGest: January 12-16, 2015

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