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Workforce Woes

Maintain Productivity Amid a Skilled Worker Shortage with Compact Hydrodemolition Robots

By Keith Armishaw

If you had to guess, what would you say is the number one concern of today’s contractor? Managing tight deadlines? Ensuring worker safety? Keeping up with developments in technology? How about input costs?

Many concrete repair contractors are turning to remote-controlled Hydrodemolition robots to improve workforce utilization and jobsite productivity. 

According to the Associated General Contractors of America, what keeps contractors up at night is the availability – or more accurately, the lack – of skilled labor. In fact, 82 percent of firms expect it will remain difficult to hire qualified workers in the coming months due to older workers leaving the profession during recession years and younger workers seeking less labor-intensive jobs. In addition, the world construction market is projected to grow 85 percent by 2030, adding stress to an industry already struggling to keep up with demand. 

The circumstances for concrete repair contractors are particularly challenging. In an April 2018 news release, the Portland Cement Association predicted cement consumption will grow from an estimated 109.5 million tons in 2018 to 116.9 million tons by 2020 due to a number of economic factors, including an anticipated increase in infrastructure spending – all while the skilled labor force continues to dwindle. 

To add to the dilemma, contemporary concrete demolition methods are not exactly scalable; the only way to increase output is with more workers. Many concrete repair contractors rely on manual concrete removal methods, such as pneumatic paving breakers or hand lances that use a high-pressure water jet. However, some contractors are finding a productivity boost from another type of equipment: compact Hydrodemolition robots. The system allows a project to be completed as much as 10 times faster than with hand lances, reducing fatigue, labor costs, and improving safety and quality of work along the way.

Remote-controlled compact robotic Hydrodemolition systems allow workers to stand at a safe distance and monitor the equipment, reducing operator fatigue while simultaneously increasing precision and efficiency.

More Work, Fewer Workers

Though widely used, hand lances do little to advance concrete contractors’ goals of improving productivity to match growing demand. The tools, inherently saddled with issues of fatigue and injury, drive up workman’s compensation costs. And due to design limitations, hand lances provide limited value in terms of power, precision, and productivity.

Some are finding that the solution to increasing productivity lies in recruiting machines rather than additional people. Many concrete repair contractors are turning to remote-controlled Hydrodemolition robots to improve workforce utilization and jobsite productivity. These machines allow workers to stand at a safe distance and monitor the equipment, reducing operator fatigue while simultaneously increasing precision and efficiency.

Some manufacturers now provide the same advanced technology of standard Hydrodemolition robots in lighter, smaller systems. At a fraction of the cost of standard machines, compact robotic Hydrodemolition systems provide a cost-effective mode of entry for concrete repair contractors who want to add Hydrodemolition technology to their operation. 

The Cost of Being Tired

Tired workers can be a significant drain on jobsite productivity, dragging out project completion and racking up unnecessary labor costs. The National Safety Council estimates that reduced performance due to fatigue can cost businesses up to $3,100 per employee annually. 

Since compact Hydrodemolition robots can be mounted on standard scaffolding and work in tight spaces, including next to ledges, concrete repair contractors save time from not needing to set up fall abatement systems

Hand lances cause workers to fatigue quickly because they must resist back thrust as they operate the water jet. A worker using a 30,000 psi hand lance must constantly fight up to 54 pounds of force for normal operation. The physical exhaustion translates to less productivity and greater cost for the business owner. 

Remote-controlled compact robotic Hydrodemolition systems, however, combat worker fatigue. Ergonomic controls mounted at waist height allow operators to work for hours without tiring, improving productivity and allowing concrete repair contractors to scale their operations without spending more on labor resources. 

Productivity from Safety

Because they combine high-powered water jets with the possibility of human error, hand lances are inherently dangerous. The pressurized water they emit poses a threat to anyone nearby, even if they are wearing protective gear. This can be especially risky on a busy jobsite where workers are often focused on their own tasks rather than being wary of the location of the hand lance. 

Compact Hydrodemolition systems allow operators to stand back from the area where concrete is being systematically removed, keeping them safe from flying debris and silica dust. And unlike hand lances or handheld pneumatic tools, these compact robots don’t require workers’ bodies to absorb any shock from the concrete removal process, preventing injuries to hands, wrists, shoulders, and backs that are common with regular operation of handheld tools. 

Unlike hand lances or handheld pneumatic tools, Hydrodemolition robots don’t require workers’ bodies to absorb any shock from the concrete removal process, preventing injuries to hands, wrists, shoulders and backs that are common with regular operation of handheld tools.

Since compact Hydrodemolition robots can be mounted on standard scaffolding and work in tight spaces, including next to ledges, concrete repair contractors also save the time of setting up fall abatement systems. Operators can remain a safe distance from fall risk areas, eliminating the need for time-consuming assembly and tear-down of these systems.

Eliminating the Power Struggle

Though some hand lances can be operated at comparable pressure to compact Hydrodemolition robots, they fall short in terms of water flow rate and reaction force, inhibiting their ability to remove broken or damaged concrete at rates fast enough to handle tough projects. 

Achieving a high water flow rate and reaction force is vital for water jetting tools to achieve the depths of removal necessary to complete most concrete structure restoration jobs. The lower flow rate of hand lances makes it difficult to remove concrete beyond a depth of 1/2-inch. While hand lances can only safely offer 5-6 gpm, compact Hydrodemolition robots can safely handle about 30 gpm. These machines can handle up to 1,000 newtons (225 pound-force) of reaction force compared to only 250 newtons (56 pound-force) produced by hand lances.

What does this mean in terms of productivity? Imagine a large parking lot in need of spot work. Bringing a hand lance to the job may get it done, but much slower than robotic alternatives. Compact Hydrodemolition robots can remove concrete at rates of 10 cubic feet per hour, compared to just .5-1.0 for a hand lance. That means a job completed almost 10 times faster with a compact Hydrodemolition robot rather than a hand lance. 

Compact Hydrodemolition systems allow operators to stand back from the area where concrete is being systematically removed, keeping them safe from flying debris and silica dust.

Robotic Precision

Compact Hydrodemolition systems can work faster, more efficiently and with more precision than a human behind a hand lance. This eliminates the unknowns in performance and provides enhanced and consistent productivity. 

The robots can also be programmed to maintain a specific depth of removal, a feat impossible from handheld water jetting tools. Constant depth control eliminates the unknowns in performance, giving concrete repair contractors more control of their projects and assurance that they can meet promised deadlines.  

Compact Hydrodemolition robots can remove concrete at rates of 10 cubic feet per hour, compared to just .5-1.0 for a hand lance.

Now more than ever, construction businesses need to adopt high-tech equipment to retain their workforce, increase efficiency and improve jobsite safety. With no end in sight to the skilled labor shortage, contractors can – and must – adapt new methods into their business model to thrive in a changing economic environment. 


As COVID-19 (coronavirus) brings countless businesses to a grinding halt, the construction industry remains resilient — even in the face of tremendous challenge.

Unlike many industries where “working from home” and “drive-thru service” are feasible countermeasures, construction firms have jobsites to run. Chris Hopper, executive vice president and general manager of Skanska, told the Cincinnati Business Courier, “You can’t hang drywall from your house.”

Skanska is a New York-based construction and development firm with projects throughout the country. The company employs more than 10,000. Skanska has developed a multi-faceted COVID-19 response plan to help keep employees safe and jobsites operational.

We looked at what Skanska and other leading construction firms are doing in the wake of COVID-19.


  1. Understand and follow CDC guidelines
  2. Place restrictions on travel
  3. Develop screening measures for employees who have recently traveled
  4. Instruct employees to stay home if they are feeling sick
  5. Place restrictions on in-person meetings and other employee gatherings
  6. Encourage employees to work from home if feasible
  7. Train all employees on the 6-foot distancing rule, no handshakes, etc.
  8. Establish thorough cleaning protocols at offices and jobsites
  9. Increase availability of cleaning supplies and handwashing stations at offices and jobsites
  10. Donate N95 respirator masks to local hospitals
  11. Tell elected officials to put partisan bickering aside in this very critical moment of national crisis
  12. Establish dedicated and empowered COVID-19 response teams
  13. Stay up to date on both federal and local COVID-19 developments
  14. Maintain clear, honest and ongoing communication with employees and subcontractors, and perhaps clients and suppliers


Social distancing is a critical component of any COVID-19 response plan. Turner Construction Company, a New York-based firm that employs roughly 10,000, has begun limiting the size of employee gatherings and has already put a stop to large group meetings. Attending events such as conferences has also been suspended. Remote conferencing technology is now being utilized for meetings. On that note, Turner Construction has expanded its network capacity and training tools to accommodate this surge in online network activity.

Sometimes an essential meeting that requires in-person attendance must take place. Turner Construction mandates that these meetings occur in spaces allowing for adequate social distancing. The CDC recommends that people remain roughly 6 feet apart. Additionally, Turner Construction is adapting standard operating procedures to limit the number of employees in an elevator or hoist at a given time.

Harkins, an employee-owned construction company based in Maryland, constantly reminds employees about the 6-foot rule. Additionally, sick employees are sent home immediately. All gatherings such as lunches are forbidden, and all meetings are now conducted remotely via Microsoft Teams.

Monitoring employees who travel has been another point of focus for construction companies.

Skanska issued a ban on all international travel through at least April. Domestic travel has also been greatly limited.

Turner Construction has restricted all business travel to any CDC Level 3 country, which is a country deemed to have widespread transmission. Also, if any employee had traveled to or had close contact with anyone who traveled to one of these countries, that employee is not allowed onto a Turner jobsite or office for 14 days from the date of contact. Taking it a step further, any employee who exhibits any of the common COVID-19 symptoms is instructed to stay away from Turner jobsites and facilities. Symptoms include fever, cough and restricted breathing.


Hygiene has also been at the top of the list for Turner Construction. All jobsites are required to provide access to handwashing stations. Additionally, staff has been trained to religiously clean and disinfect frequently touched objects such as lunch tables, coffee machines and door knobs.

Harkins has instituted a long list of jobsite protocols to help improve awareness. For example, CDC and OSHA guidelines are now posted in all conspicuous locations on jobsites. Furthermore, jobsite leaders are trained to closely monitor employee behavior to ensure that the guidelines are being followed.

Harkins has also taken steps to step up jobsite cleaning. Trailers are now cleaned daily. Furthermore, a commercial cleaning service is brought in to clean and disinfect certain areas of a jobsite if COVID-19 exposure is suspected to have taken place. Harkins has also increased the volume of hand sanitizing products deployed to jobsites.


Skanska has established a Coordination Response Team in each market it serves. Teams are tasked with monitoring COVID-19 developments, sharing information with employees and business partners, and implementing protocols.

Turner Construction has also established a dedicated COVID-19 Action Team. Efforts to support employees are an essential part of this team’s focus. Support is a key element that can get overshadowed in the midst of everything that is going on. This crisis has been taking a tremendous toll on many. Employers can play a constructive role in helping people cope.

On that note, Turner’s COVID-19 Action Team has gathered information to help employees guard against coronavirus-related scams, which are unfortunately emerging on a regular basis. The company has established a “fraud alert page” where employees can receive up-to-date information.


Skanska is utilizing its internal company website (intranet) to provide general updates on COVID-19. The intranet is also being used to reinforce guidelines and standard operating procedures. This same information is also available through the company’s mobile app.

As reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier, telling employees to stay home when they are not feeling well is a critical piece to maintaining a safe, functioning jobsite. To reinforce the importance of this policy, HGC Groups, a large regional general contractor based in Cincinnati, has temporarily stopped recording unscheduled absences. In other words, an employee who thinks they may have COVID-19 symptoms will not be penalized for calling in sick to work.


In Orlando, Fla., work on a $2.15 billion airport project continues amidst the COVID-19 crisis. As reported by the Orlando Business Journal, several guidelines have been put into place so work can continue:

  • Employees showing signs of illness are sent home
  • Additional handwashing stations have been made available
  • More frequent cleaning of high touch point areas like stairwells
  • Administrative staffs are evaluated for possible shift adjustments to limit personal interaction

The economic toll of COVID-19 has already set in. That said, some financial analysts expect that industries like manufacturing and construction will be among the last to begin issuing layoffs. That is due to the significant shortage of skilled workers these industries have been experiencing.

Rather, construction firms are expected to take proactive measures to help protect their workers and ongoing projects. The best practices outlined in this article showcase what leading construction firms are already doing in this regard.


The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) says it has been lobbying for the construction industry to be deemed “essential” as government officials issue new mandates for certain business closures. AGC has also expressed support for a $2 trillion relief package that, as of March 23, the U.S. Senate had failed to pass on numerous occasions.

In addition, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), show owner and producer of CONEXPO-CON/AGG, says it is working closely with federal, state and local officials to make sure they take immediate steps to contain the spread of COVID-19, support equipment manufacturers and their employees, maintain vital supply chains and ensure the country’s economic resilience. AEM sent a letter to the President requesting that the federal government designate equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and dealers as “essential” and providing state and local jurisdictions with a clear and consistent federal directive moving forward.

AEM continues to urge Congress and the President to take action on the following policies that would support the construction industry:

It is important for construction companies to help bring this message to state and federal leaders. The sooner Congress comes together to pass relief, the sooner financial markets can be stabilized.

While businesses and citizens wait for our nation’s leaders to put their partisan bickering aside and come together in the face of this unprecedented national crisis, the construction industry is showing that it is possible to put the nation’s interests ahead your own.

The CEO of 3M recently told CNBC that he was disappointed that N95 respirator masks are still on store shelves while hospitals face a shortage. To be fair, that could simply be the result of inventory that already existed in the pipeline. Regardless, it is up to retailers to decide if it is in the nation’s best interest to redirect that inventory to local health care facilities.

Some construction companies have already determined that it is in the nation’s best interest.

An ABC television affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, recently reported that area construction companies have answered Vice President Mike Pence’s call to redirect respirator masks to hospitals. More construction companies around the country can follow suit by simply reaching out to their local hospitals and health care facilities.

That is leadership by example, and the construction industry does it as well as anybody.

By adopting the COVID-19 prevention protocols outlined in this article, construction companies can continue leading by example — all while helping to “flatten the curve” and help the nation emerge from this crisis.

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AGC: Jobs Are Back But Where Are The Workers


Texas and Wyoming Have Biggest Number and Percent of Annual Job Gains as Missouri, Hawaii Lag; California and Wyoming Have Largest One-Month Gains, While Florida and Rhode Island Trail

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia added construction jobs between November 2017 and November 2018, while 23 states added construction jobs between October and November, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of Labor Department data released today. Association officials said extremely low unemployment rates in most of the nation have made it hard for contractors in many states to continue adding workers, despite strong demand for projects.

“November was the first month this year in which fewer than half the states experienced monthly increases in construction employment,” stated chief economist Ken Simonson. “At a time when job openings are at record highs, the recent slowdown in hiring in some states may indicate contractors are unable to find qualified workers, rather than a slackening in demand for construction.”

The economist noted that job openings in construction totaled 292,000 at the end of October, a jump of 59,000 or 25 percent from a year earlier and the highest October level in the 18 years that the Labor Department has published the series. The number of unemployed jobseekers with recent construction experience—352,000—was the lowest yet for that month. Together, these figures suggest contractors in many states cannot find experienced workers to fill vacancies, Simonson said.

Texas added the most construction jobs during the past year (47,100 jobs, 6.5 percent). Other states adding a large number of new construction jobs for the past 12 months include Florida (32,900 jobs, 6.4 percent), California (29,600 jobs, 3.6 percent), Arizona (18,500 jobs, 12.3 percent) and Georgia (18,200 jobs, 9.7 percent). Wyoming added the highest percentage of construction jobs during the past year (15.2 percent, 2,900 jobs), followed by Arizona, Nevada (11.7 percent, 9,900 jobs), North Dakota (11.4 percent, 2,900 jobs), Connecticut (11.0 percent, 6,400 jobs) and Oregon (10.7 percent, 10,500 jobs). Construction employment reached a record high in four states: Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Texas.

Seven states shed construction jobs between November 2017 and 2018, while construction employment was unchanged in Rhode Island. The largest decline occurred in Missouri (-3,300 jobs, -2.7 percent), followed by South Carolina (-3,100 jobs, -3.0 percent) and New Jersey (-2,200 jobs, -1.4 percent). Hawaii had the steepest percentage job loss for the year (-3.8 percent, -1,400 jobs), followed by South Carolina, Missouri, and New Jersey.

Among the 23 states with one-month job gains between October and November, California had the largest pickup (3,300 jobs, 0.4 percent), followed by Texas (2,700 jobs, 0.3 percent), Pennsylvania (1,900 jobs, 0.7 percent) and Arizona (1,900 jobs, 1.1 percent). Wyoming added the highest percentage of construction jobs for the month (4.8 percent, 1,000 jobs), followed by North Dakota (2.5 percent, 700 jobs) and West Virginia (2.3 percent, 800 jobs).

Construction employment decreased from October to November in 22 states and was unchanged in five states and D.C. Florida lost the most construction jobs (-3,800 jobs, -0.7 percent), followed by Missouri (-3,100 jobs, -2.5 percent) and North Carolina (-1,500 jobs, -0.7 percent). Rhode Island lost the highest percentage of construction jobs in November (-3.6 percent, -700 jobs), followed by Missouri and Hawaii (-2.4 percent, -900 jobs).

Association officials said the soaring level of job openings points to the urgency of implementing effective career and technical education programs to enable workers to get jobs in fields such as construction. “Contractors in many parts of the country are ready and willing to offer high-paying jobs with great career advancement opportunities,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Federal, state and local officials should facilitate those opportunities by modernizing and adequately funding appropriate education and training programs.”

View the state employment data by rank, state, and peaks. View the state employment map.

AGC Innovation Awards: Sundt Construction