Time and profits are wasted as your employees look for tools and material on the jobsite.

On the way to my favorite fishing hole with two of my close friends, we stopped at one of our jobsites. I did my normal jobsite safety inspection, which took almost an hour while they looked around at what the crews were doing. Neither had ever been involved in construction and both were very interested in what they saw.

When we got back into my truck, the older gentlemen asked me why we didn't use a quartermaster to provide everything that the craftsman needs to get his job done. The job was behind schedule and we had talked about our skilled craft shortage before we got to the jobsite.

“Don't you realize how much of your craftsmen's valuable time is wasted hunting for parts and pieces, and then carrying all of that, and their tools, to their actual work site?” he asked. “Not only does that help to keep you behind schedule, but you need to do some simple math to see how much money you are losing. Surely you could get common labor to mobilize and demobilize your jobs. In the Army, our quartermaster corps made sure every soldier had what they needed to do his job. Wouldn't that make sense to all of those contractors?”

When he finished with his observations and questions, I laughed when I responded that I never used the word quartermaster but I did know about the quartermaster corps. I also knew that the Navy used the same word for a petty officer who attends to a ship's helm, binnacle and signals.

Fortunately, we had another jobsite to visit where they were laying brick and concrete block. As we walked the site, I showed them what our quartermaster corps was doing for the masons. Of course, we call them mason tenders:

  • There were four masons working on the ground laying concrete block. All of their blocks were within reach, the mortar was on the mortarboard right beside them and the dur-wall reinforcing they needed was on the ground within reach. One mason tender was replenishing their mortar as needed and would bring them anything else they would ask for.

  • Six masons were on a 10-ft. scaffold laying face brick. Here again, all of their materials were within reach and one tender was also on the scaffold replenishing mortar. The tenders had built that scaffolding with railings for fall protection and two tenders were actively building their next work level.

  • Those masons were treated as professional craftsmen and did not sort or move any material, equipment or scaffolding. They had everything they needed to perform a good day's work within reach and at a convenient level.

    Proudly, I asked my friend if that's what he meant by a quartermaster corps. He smiled and asked, “What's the matter with those other trades? Are they not that smart or do they just get enough money for their work that they don't even care?”

    He also asked me if those tenders were masonry apprentices trying to learn the trade. I explained that masonry apprentices are properly treated as interns doing professional brick and block laying. The tenders are proud and professional laborers doing a challenging task that they were trained to perform. They have a very important job to do, and they do it well.

    I could not answer his question about the other trades he had observed on the previous jobsite. I told him that they are not dumb people and they definitely must compete for their profit. What they need is someone like him to observe what they are doing and then point out the critical need for a “quartermaster corps.” There is no question that a craftsman must have everything he or she needs readily available to do his or her job. There is also no question that someone else should do this for them.

    What's even more effective than having a stranger make these observations is for them to stand back and see this for themselves. If not that, then call on me to show them what their well-organized competitors call mobilization and de-mobilization.

    Although I personally never related the military description of quartermaster corps, it certainly fits: We must provide everything, on time, for each craftsman to work effectively. When you consider what a well-trained quartermaster corps would cost you, you also need to compare that with the costs of any alternatives. In addition to saving labor costs, you will increase the morale and productivity of all your craftsmen, and especially apprentices.

    Supplying every craftsman with everything he needs on time is a multifaceted task. We will cover all of the on-site challenges and solutions next month, but for now we will begin where you must begin - at your office.

    Mobilizing At The Office

    When you get your contract, you should hold a kick-off or hand-off meeting with your management team, including estimator, purchasing agent, project manager, superintendent, job foreman and expeditors or coordinators:

    1. You need to establish a critical path job schedule to determine exactly when each and every item should be accomplished and delivery dates to the jobsite. Your “by whom, by when” written checklist assures these responsibilities are fulfilled.

    2. You need to value-engineer the entire job to determine how much you can prefab, pre-assemble and order “bag and tag.” This value-engineering also searches for a cost-effective, better way.

    3. You need to order material and equipment with specific delivery dates to your jobsite or fab shop along with critical dates for shop drawings and catalog cut submittals.

    4. Your purchasing department needs to review your yard inventory before ordering duplicate items.

    5. Your foreman needs to check all shop drawings to assure on time deliveries and proper rough-in and site preparation.

    6. You need to supply jobsite storage trailers as needed.

    7. You should check and coordinate your material handling needs with the general contractor and the other trades who may have a forklift, crane or elevator on-site.

    I don't think you would disagree that all of these items are necessary and critical for your craftsmen to produce a good quality job, on time and under your labor budget. Who takes the responsibility to make certain that your craftsmen have everything they need on the day they need it? Do you agree that the military description of a quartermaster corps would certainly be appropriate for whatever part of your team you assign to accomplish these tasks? Here again, you need to think about what it costs you in lost time and dollars when any part of this is not done on time.

    You should use my six-item delegating list to assure on-time completion of every task and responsibility:

    • Assign that duty to a responsible member of your team with a specific date for completion.

    • Act. Your employee completes that task on time.

    • Ask. If for any reason that employee cannot meet the critical deadline, he or she comes to you and asks for help. This must be done soon enough to allow you ample time to fulfill that responsibility.
    If the previous “A” items are not accomplished on time, you will encounter the next three “S” items:
    • Surprise. You have all been there!

    • Struggle. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, this can waste an awful lot of valuable people's time, as well as your dollars.

    • Slide. Unfortunately, too many contractors do not use this third “S.” You simply confront the employee who did not complete his or her task or ask for help and ask what else they would like to try in a lesser position.
    This is not cruel or unkind since he or she was told to ask for help rather than let you down.

    With all of this in place, your quartermaster corps will have everything you need at your jobsite when you need it.

    Next month we will continue with your on-site quartermaster corps methods and logistics to place all of the material, tools and equipment in the specific location where it is to be installed.