My 4-year-old grandson went with me to a local jobsite where the site contractor was installing sanitary sewer lines. Either the operator or someone else in that company had painted “BIG BERTHA” on the backhoe. When I told my grandson about that name he quickly responded, “What’s her baby’s name?” Jokingly I told him that it was Charlie, which pleased him to know that the smaller backhoe was a little boy like him.

It was already getting dark, and the workers turned on their lights and kept digging. As we began to get into my pickup to leave, my grandson was upset and started to cry because they continued working. “Charlie is going to get tired and he needs to sleep. Why don’t you tell them to stop?”

Explaining that machines don’t get tired to a 4-year-old took more time than I expected, but I really appreciated his compassion and concern. I’ve never even considered discussing or explaining that to any contractor since we all know that backhoes aren’t human and don’t have babies. What I struggle with is explaining to my clients that their employees are human and most of them do have children.

Time Constraints: With today’s serious skilled labor shortage, we have far too many contractors working their crews long hours and six or seven days a week, trying to keep up with committed schedules. Even though some employees do need and want those extra overtime dollars, the negative effect on their family life or personal time is very costly. As many contractors have already discovered, those prolonged overtime schedules also prove to be non-productive and quite costly. Jobsite accidents increase due to mental fatigue and wandering minds thinking about what they would rather be doing.

If you have a problem meeting commitments, I hope you agree that it is your problem and not your employees’ (or customer’s for that matter). Fortunately, you do have many options and alternatives that need not interfere with your employees’ personal lives:

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! If you have only 10 employees, you should not be signing contracts with critical deadlines that require 20. I hope all of you have a “job-in-progress” schedule up on your wall showing you exactly what manpower you will need for the next 12 months. This backlog chart will also show you when you will need to bid another job, as well as how much profit you can afford to add on each bid. This chart will also tell you what specific task training classes you need to schedule in order to pre-train any unskilled craftsmen for those tasks.

2. Get a written job schedule for each project from your customers. I am shocked at the number of trade contractors who tell me that their general contractor or construction manager does not even have a schedule.

“They make it up as they go and change it every week. Then they demand that we meet it!” When I hear that statement, my response is quite simple as well as embarrassing to them: “Would you repeat that slowly and think about what you are saying.”

A critical path job schedule must be a two-way commitment. Either party who does not meet his commitment must accept responsibility for any delay, extra costs, penalties or liquidated damages. This is the primary purpose for weekly jobsite meetings and CYA documentation.

3. Schedule a pre-job kickoff meeting to assure that your jobsite foreman is in sync with your estimating and project management team. Along with value engineering and pre-fab strategy, they should establish a feasible project schedule with “By Whom” and “By When” for every submittal and delivery.

4. Use pre-fab and float time to maintain a larger crew than you normally require for your everyday critical path installations. You can then pull craftsmen from that work to solve any pressing emergencies. You also can eliminate most of those skill shortage emergencies by doing that float time work ahead of schedule; you already know how fast pre-fab work will go in to beat tight schedules. Pre-fab work also provides you with ideal circumstances for training and skill certification. It’s also a great opportunity to use your Green and Gold mentoring teams.

5. Ask your customer to conduct a pre-job partnering meeting to assure jobsite cooperation and positive teamwork. Reschedule additional partnering meetings any time during the construction period if any of the involved parties fail to cooperate.

6. Consider every possible adaptation of flex time. You can use 4-10’s, 3-13’s, odd shifts and even every other week as long as it stays a win-win situation. When extra hours are needed, you can schedule early mornings rather than late evenings to eliminate interfering with your employees’ personal time and commitments.

7. Recruit moonlighters! Ask your employees if any of their friends or relatives would like to earn extra money. Check with the do-it-yourself centers to see if they know who would like extra work — maybe even their own employees. You should also recruit workers from the other trades working on your jobsites, especially those living away from home. These moonlighters can provide lots of extra work hours without involving any overtime.

8. You can also find smaller trade contractors who would gladly subcontract some of your work. That would relieve your labor crisis and put those jobs back on your committed schedule.

There is a double benefit to all of these options. In addition to honoring your word and eliminating those costly arbitration or claims court battles, you also are paving that golden road to a lasting future relationship with your customer. But your best benefit is the relationship created with your own employees. When they realize that your primary concern is that they “make a good life and not just a living” you are winning the toughest battle — finding and keeping good employees. You must never overlook the fact that you are in the “people business.”

No, backhoes don’t have babies nor are they hard to replace. When your equipment breaks down or wears out, you can simply call any local dealer for a replacement. Not so with those employees! If you do not concern yourself with their families and personal needs, you certainly cannot expect them to concern themselves about your company’s needs.

A little bit of compassion and cooperation can provide very positive win-win relationships with your customers, your employees and their families. As many of you old-timers have already witnessed, those employees’ babies will grow up to seek employment with the company that took such good care of their parents.