Strong culture is a key strategy to dealing with the labor shortage at 8020 Builders, a general contractor based in Denver.
Andrea Watkins, vice president of people and culture at 8020, said her position is unique but vital in the construction world.
“Reputation brings subcontractors back again and again,” Watkins said.
Watkins said serving people is a large part of the conversation at 8020, which includes talking about how to leave people better than they were found.
“How do we help subcontractors get even better so they can get more jobs?” she said. “We want to impact them positively.”
She said there is a large emphasis in their company on communication, to ensure internal and external processes don’t hold up payment. She said cashflow is critical to subcontractors.
“When you work with subcontractors who have piece workers, it’s much more critical to be mindful of how your payment process works,” Watkins said.
Oftentimes, waiting more than a month to get paid can be too long for subcontractors to keep their crews engaged, so Watkins said ensuring there is clear communication to get them paid on time helps assure they come back.
She said it takes a lot more effort and energy to engage with subcontractors because they are so busy — so having an essential few they can count on for projects is crucial.
Once the parties are at the table, the delays haven’t been catastrophic, Watkins said. But having busier subcontractors means increased communication and cooperation in getting input for schedules and deliverables.
“It’s more work, more communications, more planning, more time understanding what’s going on for people,” Watkins said.
In being realistic and planning far ahead with schedules, 8020’s design-build strategy works well. It engages early in projects and does conceptual estimating.
According to Watkins, 8020 rarely “hard bids” on a project.
“That’s not where our value lies,” she said. “We help with design facilitation, making sure that everyone involved in a project is on the same page with what those costs are going to be.”
Watkins said it can be difficult to prevent scope and budget creep in a project when a developer chooses the lowest price bid.
“We find it plays to our advantage because we understand the performa, exit strategy and client need,” she said. “We understand the budget. That early engagement allows key subcontractors to come to the table early and problem solve.”
Early questioning and problem solving help projects get done on time, so subcontractors can get paid on time and stay on schedule.
Despite challenges, Watkins said that focusing on culture and relationships makes the industry more rewarding.
“Construction is fun — it should be fun for everyone involved. It’s not easy; it’s complex. It’s filled with problem solving, but it’s rewarding, and the relationships that we are rewarded with are fulfilling.”