Construction supervision is dynamic. It is constantly changing. Each job is different. The industry is changing. Companies are changing as they adapt to social and economic changes, as well as to changes in business practices. Our understanding of the processes of construction and how best to manage them is changing. Therefore, it is critical that the changes, as well, throughout her career.
This final chapter begins by considering some of the ways in which the industry is changing and how those changes will affect the supervisor. It then suggests how both the character and the role of the supervisor may change. Finally, the chapter concludes by considering how supervisors can not only keep up with the changes but also stay ahead of change, enabling them to embrace change as a positive and creative way of advancing both the job and their professional career.
Observations of the construction industry demonstrate that, over time, the industry has changed and that it is continuing to change. There are a number of drivers that
are imposing change on the industry. Among them are:
■  Technology
■  Environmental change
■  The economy
■  Demographics and the
■  Understanding of construction processes
■  Perceptions of the roles of management and supervision
An understanding of how these drivers are changing the industry will help the supervisor better understand how supervision and the role of the supervisor are evolving.
Technology is a very broad category that includes construction materials and in­stalled equipment, construction tools and equipment, and a variety of electronic technologies that are revolutionizing the way business is conducted.
Changes in construction materials and installed equipment are probably the easiest to visualize. As a new product is introduced, designers learn how to incor­porate it into the design of the construction project. For the contractor, the new product shows up in the construction documents. Material suppliers and distribu­tors train contractors in how the new products are to be handled and incorporated into the project. Estimators need to understand how to price out the cost of the new items, both in terms of item cost and in terms of the labor and equipment required to install them. Supervisors must understand the appropriate ways to incorporate the new products into the project and how this will affect scheduling and resource management. New materials and installed equipment have been a part of the in­dustry for a long time, and the industry has learned how to incorporate them with little disturbance.
Whereas new materials and installed equipment are introduced to the industry through the design process, new construction tools and equipment are introduced by contractors, who are made aware of new products by manufacturers and ven­dors. The path to introduce new tools and equipment often leads through the supervisor, who is looking for ways to improve field operations. Occasionally, a totally new item will come on the market, but most changes in tools and equipment come through upgrades to existing tools and equipment. An example of a signifi­cant improvement in existing tools is the replacement of power cords for electrical hand tools with powerful, small and light weight rechargeable battery packs. What appears to be a small change has made a significant impact on both production and safety.
It is up to the supervisor to stay abreast of new refinements to construction tools and equipment and to determine what can make a valuable contribution to company operations and what is not worth the time, cost, and effort to implement.
Changes in electronic technology are having a much more profound effect on how construction is done. Some changes are positive and some are negative.
One class of electronic technology is communications technology, which has evolved dramatically in recent years. Now, virtually everyone has a cell phone and most cell phones have broad capabilities, including texting, Internet access and the ability to take pictures. Numerous applications are available for advanced telephones, and new applications are constantly being developed. For most craft workers, cell phones are a distraction and their use must be limited on the job site. For the supervisor, advance communication technologies can prove to be powerful tools. However, if these are improperly used, they can be more disruptive than useful.
Better communication is generally considered an improvement, but there is also a negative side to the broad implementation of this technology. The advent of touch-to-talk technology, which made instantaneous communication available throughout a company, provides an example of how technology can be useful if properly used but how it is counterproductive if not used with constraint. Pre­planning, a fundamental supervisory responsibility, has suffered because planners know that if they forget something, they can immediately summon what they forgot in the pre-. Spending time in thorough pre-planning is perceived as becom­ing less important because of the technology. The result is deterioration in both the quality and the quantity of planning. Touch-to-talk technology also impacts the person on the other end of the communication. A person with a problem con­tacts another who may, or may not have the answer, and in so doing disrupts the work of the second individual. The conclusion with regard to new communica­tions technologies is that the use must be regulated to take advantage of the new opportunities, but to guard against disruptions that can deteriorate performance and safety.
Computer technology is evolving to provide increased power in smaller, more robust units at continually diminishing cost, so that on site computers are becoming practical for field use. Not only are they becoming practical, but because of changes in the form of construction documents to digital format, job site computers are becoming a requirement. Computer-based electronic communications can be very effective, not only for soliciting timely responses but for documenting discussions. The supervisor must seek ways to creatively use job site computers while regulating the use to eliminate detrimental applications.
One of the greatest technology advances just evolving is Building Information Modeling (BIM), which will eventually incorporate all information for a construction project in a digital format within a single, unified database. As a very complex and powerful emerging technology, the impact of BIM on the job of the supervisor has yet to be clearly defined.
Environmental Change
Environmental change is driving the construction industry to incorporate more envi­ronmentally appropriate construction materials and equipment into energy efficient
systems. These changes are coming about through the incorporation of new ma­terials and installed equipment into the project design.
However, another very important aspect of environmentally appropriate con­struction is the use of environmentally sensitive construction tools, equipment, methods, and techniques. This is a realm in which the supervisor plays a significant role. One focus of environmentally sensitive construction is minimizing pollutants. For example, the supervisor must be well aware of how to handle water runoff from the site to ensure that polluting materials are not washed off the site. Another example is the supervisor’s involvement in appropriately handling the many toxic chemicals that are used on site and responsibly disposing of any waste materials or residue from such materials.
Another focus in environmentally sensitive construction is on the use and main­tenance of construction equipment. The most energy efficient equipment should be selected for a job. Fuels and lubricants for construction equipment should be nonpolluting and, if possible, made from renewable resources. Lubricants must be properly handled and properly disposed of.
The Economy
The economy has many impacts on construction work. A robust economy drives construction schedules, demanding that the execution time for projects be contin­ually reduced. A robust economy also creates significant construction work, which tends to increase the number of contractors and raise the competition such that prices need to be driven down. A faltering economy means more contractors will be going after less work, again increasing competition and driving prices down. A fundamental principal of the construction industry is that more complex projects are expected to be completed in less time at less cost with increased safety and quality.
The global nature of the economy is having a significant impact on local projects. It is true that, unlike manufacturing, construction projects cannot be built outside the country and imported. However, the global economy impacts construction in many other ways. Although an entire building or industrial complex cannot be built overseas and imported, many of the materials and pieces of installed equipment that are incorporated into a construction project are being manufactured overseas and imported. With the increasing trend in prefabrication (see below) prefabricated can be manufactured overseas and imported. The result is to move construction toward a process of assembly rather than traditional building in place. In addition, construction equipment and temporary structures, such as forming systems, are increasingly coming from outside the country.
Finally, economic booms in other countries can tie up copious amounts of construction materials, causing supervisors to have to cope with local material shortages. One impact of material shortages is to cause disturbances to both cost and schedule. Another impact is to require supervisors to seek alternative sources of materials to draw from should the long lines of transportation break down. Finally,
shortages of materials often result in the substitution of lesser-quality materials or even counterfeit items that do not meet specifications.
Demographics and the Construction Workforce
The nature of the construction workforce is changing dramatically. Generational changes that affect all of society, also affect construction workers. What motivates people, attitudes toward work and employers, perceptions of time, and standards of quality are examples of areas where worker perceptions differ, depending upon various generational categories.
Cultural diversity is also changing throughout the industry. In addition to differ­ences noted above, this brings diversity in language, religion, and social customs.
The construction worker has traditionally been personified as white, Anglo, and male, although minority groups have always been represented. As minority groups increase and the proportion of white, Anglo, males decreases, the workforce can no longer be thought of as monolithic. It is very diverse in many ways, including gender, race, and language.
The supervisor must become proficient in leadership skills in the context of a diverse environment. Directing labor with a heavy hand is neither acceptable within the current culture nor is it effective. Although the supervisor takes ultimate re­sponsibility for the efficiency of field operations, the effective supervisor will engage workers in planning and designing the construction processes, taking advantage of diversity in the workforce to develop more effective solutions.
Understanding of Construction Processes
Construction processes continue to evolve. Traditional “stick building” is giving way to prefabrication of assemblies, and installation of these assemblies. Prefabrication has many advantages, including improvements in productivity, safety and quality. Installation of assemblies tends to be less technically challenging than more tradi­tional construction methods, allowing successful incorporation of a larger proportion of lower skilled workers on the site. The supervisor must learn how to effectively em­ploy lower skilled workers in mixed crews consisting of a few traditionally skilled craft workers and various degrees of lesser skilled workers.
Recent developments in the application of lean production methods to con­struction, as described in Chapter 15 are providing a much better understanding of the complex processes involved in construction. As supervisors understand the processes better, they can manage them more effectively. They can also find ways to improve the processes leading to opportunities to execute projects at lower cost, more quickly, with higher quality and fewer accidents.
The project delivery system, or the way construction projects are packaged has a profound impact on the supervisor’s role. In the traditional design-bid-build approach, the supervisor has a completed design prior to starting the project. Few questions arise during the project, except those resulting from errors and omissions in the construction documents. However, at the same time, there is little latitude for
innovations in the design by the supervisor. The supervisor’s innovation is focused on finding the most efficient way to turn the design drawings and specifications into reality.
In addition to design-bid-build, there are many other ways to package a project, each with its own set of opportunities and pitfalls. Some of the most popular among these project delivery systems are design-build, agency construction management, and construction management at risk. New project delivery systems are being developed as creative ways are sought to better package projects, and also as technology advances. BIM technology has led to the development of integrated project delivery, which is in the early stages of development so that its impact on field supervision is not yet well understood.
Contractors are also finding ways to expand their involvement in projects such as participating in the financing, taking an ownership position in the project, or making long term maintenance and operation a part of the contract.
Supervisors rarely get the opportunity to choose, or even influence the choice of how the project is packaged, so it behooves supervisors to recognize that when a different project delivery system is used, field operations will be affected. It is important for the supervisor to learn as much as possible about the project delivery system for the specific project to which they are assigned and how best to supervise within the context of that specific project delivery system.
Perceptions of the Roles of Management and Supervision
The perception of the role of the supervisor is evolving. Years ago, supervisors were often known as “pushers.” This term implies a role of forcing production from work­ers. Changes in what motivates workers, the way contractual relationships are laid out, and our perception of the treatment of workers have essentially eliminated the role of pusher. Supervisors are now considered leaders, motivators, and planners. Improvements in production come through innovations rather than pushing workers to work harder.
Relationships between management and supervision are also changing. In some companies, the project manager takes a strong role in running the project. In other companies, the project manager has many diverse responsibilities outside the project, such as managing other projects and estimating new projects, so that on a specific job, more responsibility is delegated to the supervisor.
Many general contractors are moving away from self-performing work to be­come brokers, who subcontract all the work to specialty contractors. The work of the supervisor for the general contractor on that type of project is coordination rather than detailed assignment-level planning. The preparation of such supervisors is moving away from gaining experience through craft training and hands-on work toward preparation through an educational or academic background. Supervisors on projects where all the work is performed by specialty contractors need a differ­ent skill set than the traditional supervisor involved on a day-to-day basis in work activities.
The result of these drivers is a construction industry that is constantly changing. In order to keep up with the changing industry, the supervisor must constantly update his or her own skill set, and be a life-time learner.
As the construction industry changes, demands on supervisors are also changing, so the source of new supervisors and the preparation of supervisors is evolving. Construction supervisors have traditionally come out of the trades. Highly qualified journeymen are identified because they display well-developed craft skills, have a strong work ethic, and get along well with others. They also tend to have the inter­est of the company at heart, can communicate well, and demonstrate leadership capabilities. Their supervisor will bring them to the attention of management and suggest that their next assignment might be in a supervisory role.
Traditionally, little if any training has been provided for supervisors. It is ex­pected that since the craft worker worked under a supervisor, they understand what a supervisor does. New supervisors may get a very brief overview of com­pany requirements for supervision, such as company standard documentation and communication requirements for the home office, but little more. The new supervisor is dropped into the new supervisory position and given the opportu­nity to learn on the job. For some this works, for others, it soon becomes appar­ent that, though this person is a skilled craft worker, they are not able to make the transition into supervision and they are soon reassigned back to craft work. Others may like the idea of being a supervisor, but soon find that the expec­tations are too much and the rewards are too small to support their desire to be a supervisor. Without proper training, the dropout rate for new supervisors is unacceptably high.
As shortages continue to plague the construction workforce, shortages in well-qualified, highly skilled supervisors are even more acute. With the changes summarized in the previous section, the job of the supervisor is becoming more complex and demanding. The traditional means to obtain supervisors are no longer adequate to meet the demands. Thus, new methods are needed to recruit and prepare supervisors.
Certainly, the traditional approach of bring supervisors up from the craft ranks is still important. However, such promising young supervisors must be nurtured both to retain them as supervisors and to enable them to perform optimally as a supervisor. At the same time, the increasing demand for new, more highly skilled supervisors is driving the development of new means to recruit, develop, and retain qualified supervisors.
Recruitment can be improved by employers developing their own supervisory recruitment programs within the company. The position of supervisor needs to be well defined and then recognized as important and rewarded accordingly. Monetary rewards are limited, in many instances by contract, and in others by economics
that do not allow supervisors to be paid significantly higher than craft workers while maintaining company competitiveness. Human resources experts can provide many for non-monetary compensation for supervisors, such as recognition in company publications and at company get-togethers and small rewards such as gift certificates, badges, and other acknowledgments.
Many companies are starting recruitment at a much younger level by scruti­nizing the ranks of apprentices to find those with strong supervisory potential. The companies then work out professional development plans for them that will lead them into supervision at an early stage of their career.
In construction companies engaged primarily in management of construction projects, rather than in self performing work, supervisors are being recruited from two-year, four-year, or even graduate academic programs. From these programs, construction companies are seeking graduates who would like a field, rather than an office orientation. They then work out a professional development plan, cover­ing several years to transition the graduate from academic learning to a practical knowledge of the industry and a specific knowledge of the company.
Supervisory training is becoming much more readily available through trade associations and other educational organizations. Broad training programs are available that address many different topics important to the supervisor. However, no training program covers all topics at a comprehensive level. A broad training program can provide significant learning opportunities to both less experienced and more experienced supervisors at all levels from foreman to general superintendent. It can then be supplemented in specific areas of need either by the company or by the supervisor through any of a wide variety of shorter, more focused training programs. Examples of more focused training areas include construction safety, written and oral communication, and leadership. Many of these focused training ar­eas are not construction-specific, but can be readily adapted to construction by the supervisor.
Rather than starting with a broad-based supervisory training program, supervi­sors can work out, with the company or on their own, a long-term learning expe­rience comprising a number of specific training programs that will build strength and provide skills in specific areas. Many of these programs will be construction-oriented and perhaps even focused in a specific trade area. However, many su­pervisory skills, such as negotiating, communicating one on one, or technical writing, can be obtained from generic training programs with the specific focus desired.
As the role of the supervisor changes, the knowledge and skills of the supervisor must also change. This last section suggests ways in which the supervisor can evolve as the role of the supervisor changes. Four means will be reviewed that can enable the supervisor to keep up with change: networking, mentoring, training, and education.
Networking: The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Networking is important to the supervisor because it is a powerful way in which to expand one’s career. It provides an opportunity to learn in an informal environment. One can learn from other experienced supervisors about “tricks of the trade” that they have developed to facilitate their jobs or to avoid problems. Supervisors can also learn about problems experienced on other jobs that make them more aware of potential problems that may occur on their jobs. The supervisor also learns about the effects of problems and potential solutions that might be used on the supervisor’s own job. It is far easier to learn from the experience of others rather than to have to encounter problems firsthand on one’s own job and then try to rush to solve the problem without knowledge of the effects and potential solutions.
Networking creates that can be used when difficult situations or prob­lems arise on the job. It is important to be able to give a trusted colleague a call to discuss a situation that has just arisen that could have significant ramifications on your job. It is also helpful when dealing with difficult people to be able to call another supervisor to discuss how best to deal with that person.
The process of networking is not complex. It begins with meeting a broad cross-section of people. These people will have common interests but do not necessarily have to be supervisors or even employed within the construction in­dustry. Supervisors from other industries deal with many of the same challenges with which construction supervisors deal. The supervisor can learn a great deal from people who are in other businesses and professions. For example, a human resources specialist in any type of business environment can help the supervisor work more effectively with various aspects of managing people. A lawyer can pro­vide insight into contracts even if they are not specifically construction contracts. An accountant can offer an understanding of cash flow without specifically focusing on construction.
From among the broad pool of acquaintances, specific people are selected to get to know better. They will be perceived as someone who might be of help in some way, who has common interests and professional goals, and who shares a similar business ethic. It is very important that networking partners be able to share mutual respect. Also networking partners should be sought for whom the supervisor might be able to provide some value. The focus in networking is mutual, not unilateral.
Networking should take place both within and outside the company. Within the company, the supervisor should seek opportunities to get together with other supervisors. These could be supervisors at about the same level, but it is also valuable to interact with supervisors with more experience and also with those with
less experience. Networking with less experienced supervisors is valuable because these young professionals often ask questions that the more experienced supervisor may have forgotten, leading the more experienced supervisor to look at problems from a different perspective than the one he or she has become accustomed to. Networking with experienced craft workers can also be beneficial. Craft workers often provide a perspective of the job different from that of the supervisor. Because they are actively involved in the work on a daily basis, they tend to see incipient problems that the supervisor has not yet seen, and they might have solutions that the supervisor has overlooked.
To develop a network within the company, get to know as many people on each job as possible and retain these acquaintances over the long term. Retain relationships developed on previous jobs with respected journeymen. Consider company events, whether business events or social events, as opportunities to expand the network. It might be possible to visit other company jobs, thus meeting new company employees, maintaining relationships previously developed, and also seeing another project.
Outside the company, supervisors should maintain contacts with craft workers they have met earlier in their career who have left the company. Participation in professional meetings where other supervisors with common interests are likely to participate also provides the opportunity to expand the network. As the supervisor moves up to higher levels, it might be appropriate to join a professional or become involved in a trade organization that is focused on the work of the super­visor. The Project Management Institute and the American Institute of Constructors are two professional organizations that might prove valuable. There are many trade associations that cater to specific specialty areas within the construction industry. These associations are constantly looking for volunteers to participate on commit­tees focusing on areas of interest to the supervisor, such as workforce development and safety.
Mentor: A trusted counselor or guide, a tutor or coach.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Mentoring is a special type of networking in which the mentor is essentially a knowledgeable, often influential, individual who takes an interest in, and advises, another person concerning that person’s career.
Mentor relationships tend not to be as mutual as networking relationships; however, the mentor does receive value. By mentoring younger professionals, the mentor can maintain contact with the ideas and culture of the newer generation of supervisors and can often be introduced to new technologies that longer-term professionals tend not to get involved with. Mentoring relationships certainly are of benefit to the company in preparing younger professionals for positions of higher
responsibility. Mentoring relations also can be very fulfilling to the mentor who desires to give back to the profession that has served them well.
Craft workers, supervisors and managers at all levels must participate in training from time to time. Training provides many benefits. It is essential to renew skills and knowledge learned earlier, especially if those skills or that knowledge have not been recently used. If one moves into a new position, or is preparing to move into a new position, training enables one to gain new knowledge and acquire new skills required for the new position. It has already been noted that the role of supervisors evolves as the industry changes, so training is required for supervisors to keep up with innovations in the industry and changes in supervision. Training is so important that most professional organizations have minimum requirements for training and continuing education to retain membership or certification.
Training is accessible through many sources. A great variety of training opportu­nities in the traditional classroom are available through many trade and professional organizations. More sophisticated companies will bring training programs, often tailored specifically for the company, into the company. Training is also available through many companies specializing in industry training. Training in the form of continuing education is also available through local colleges and universities.
Newer, nontraditional training opportunities have become abundantly available. Asynchronous, online training programs that can be accessed at any time and in any location with Internet access abound. There are also many live interactive training programs available online.
In assessing training programs, supervisors should look for a program that specifically addresses the area of learning sought. They should ensure, as much as possible, that the training is being provided by qualified facilitators and sponsored by recognized organizations. With training available in various formats, offered on a variety of schedules, supervisors should select the format and scheduling that meets their learning style and that is most convenient within the context of professional and personal commitments. Online learning has the advantage of convenience and flexibility. However, it requires a high level of self-discipline and the ability to learn independently. A live group setting is rigid in terms of scheduling, but it creates opportunities beyond just learning the topic, such as networking and the ability to ask questions and enter into discussions. Well-designed training works well within various formats. Supervisors need to select the format that works best for them.
Some training programs provide recognition at the end of the training experi­ence. A certificate at the end of the program may recognize that the supervisor did participate in the learning experience. Certification is different from a certificate of participation or a certificate of completion. Certification certifies that the participant gained specific knowledge and/or skills. Certification requires testing throughout and/or at the end of the experience, demonstrating that specific learning objectives were met.
The terms education and training are often used interchangeably, but they are signif­icantly different. Training is focused on developing skills and capabilities. Education is more broadly focused on learning about the topic of interest, typically within a broad context. Certainly there is overlap because a participant in an educational program should gain skills and a participant in a training program learns a good deal about the topic. However, the objectives of training are different from those of education.
It is also important that participants in either training or educational programs understand the difference between a teaching and a learning environment. In a teaching environment, often used for young children in school, the teacher is pre­sumed to have knowledge and skills that he or she wants to impart to the student, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to make this happen. In a learning environ­ment, which works far better for adult learners, the learning experience is under the leadership of a facilitator, not a teacher. The focus is on the learner rather than on the facilitator, and it is the learners’ responsibility to determine what they want from the program and then to shape the program to meet their learning objectives. The learning experience can be shaped by the learner through interaction, by ask­ing questions, and by entering into discussion. Supervisors should approach their learning opportunities (whether education or training) as active participants who take responsibility for their own learning.
Educational programs tend to lead to academic degrees. These are typically associated with an educational institution and the program of study is generally spread over a significant amount of time, such as 2-years, 4-years, or longer for graduate degrees.
In this chapter, the following key points have been presented:
■  The role of the supervisor is constantly changing.
Changing supervisory roles reflect industry changes.
■  Industry change is the result of a number of drivers.
■  Changing supervisory roles also reflect changes in culture and in business practices.
■  New supervisors need to be recruited from a variety of sources
■  Development of new supervisors makes them more effective and stems the rapid loss of supervisors.
■  To maintain and enhance value as a supervisor, a long-term professional development plan should be implemented.
■  The supervisor’s professional development should include networking, men­toring, training, and education.
Learning Activities
1.  Developing a Personal Professional Development Plan
The objective of this activity is to write a personal professional development plan tailored to the individual. Start by briefly defining your current job and the next job you would like. (For example, I am a foreman and would like to be a general foreman on my next assignment). Next, define the supervisory skills that you feel could be improved, both to help you in your present job and to better prepare you for the next step. Finally, identify at least one opportunity to develop a networking (or mentoring) relationship that can build strength in an identified area, and identify at least one training program that you would like to participate in to develop a new skill or strengthen an existing skill. If you would like to develop a more comprehensive plan, repeat the process identifying various networking relationships and training programs. To enhance the value of this plan, make it a continuous process by reevaluating the plan from time to time to see if you are improving your supervisory skills and whether the plan needs to be modified, expanded, or realigned based upon where you are at the time of reevaluation.
2.  Developing a Training Agenda
The objective of this activity is to plan your own training program to strengthen your supervisory skills. Start by doing a self-analysis, identifying and prioritizing supervisory skills you would like to gain or to strengthen. Pick one of these skills and do research to find available training programs focusing on this skill. One source of information might be training opportunities offered by local chapters of trade and professional organizations. Another source might be local academic or training institutions. A third source might involve a web search of training in the skill area you have chosen. Once training opportunities have been identified, evaluate the value of an opportunity to you and select the best value opportunity. You might ask such questions as: Does this focus specifically on my area of interest? Does the provider have appropriate credentials? Does the delivery format fit my best learning style? Is this program accessible in terms of timing and location? Will the company sponsor me in this learning endeavor, or do I have the means to pay for it? To develop a more comprehensive training agenda, repeat the process for various skills and then develop a potential schedule to obtain the training.

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