Financial Times’ Matthew Klein has proposed an interesting alternative theory about the skilled labor shortage in the US that has impacted all sectors of the construction industry, but especially the residential market.

He posits that by looking at homebuilding data in Japan, the implication is that the US isn’t facing a labor shortage so much as it is dealing with sub-par productivity. Despite the fact that Japan’s population is less than 40% of US population, only 14% more homes have been built in the US since 1992.

Surely an aging society without a reservoir of cheap (and often illegal) immigrant labour would have fewer builders as a share of the labour force than a relatively youthful and foreigner-friendly country such as the US. Unsurprisingly, there has been a glut of articles over the past few years warning of “labour shortages” due to the combination of aging and falling immigration rates, with the implication that this has been restraining construction and inflating house prices.

Reality is the other way around. Despite radically different demographics and essentially no immigration, Japan has consistently employed a much larger share of its workers in the construction industry than the US, although the share has dropped over time. Even at the peak of America’s housing bubble, only about 5.5 per cent of workers were employed in construction. In Japan last year, more than 7 per cent of employees worked in construction — and that’s a lot lower than in the early 2000s…

Another way of putting all of this is that America built about the same number of housing units in 2016 as in 1992, but somehow required about 46 per cent more people to do it. Japan built 31 per cent fewer houses in 2016 than in 1992, but its construction workforce had fallen by 19 per cent. Productivity deteriorated in both countries, but productivity fell much further in America than in Japan.

Skilled labor shortages affect more than just the construction industry. As craftsmen in various trades and industries from the Baby-Boomer generation retire or change professions, there aren’t too many younger apprentices to train or to otherwise transfer that knowledge. The brain drain could have drastic impacts on modern conveniences that most of us take for granted.

Case in point: COBOL programmers.

What’s a COBOL, you ask? COBOL is the nearly 60-year-old Common Business-Oriented Language that most banking software depends on. Anna Irrera, reporting for Reuters, elaborates on the issue:

And here lies the problem: if something goes wrong, few people know how to fix it.

The stakes are especially high for the financial industry, where an estimated $3 trillion in daily commerce flows through COBOL systems. The language underpins deposit accounts, check-clearing services, card networks, ATMs, mortgage servicing, loan ledgers and other services.

The industry’s aggressive push into digital banking makes it even more important to solve the COBOL dilemma. Mobile apps and other new tools are written in modern languages that need to work seamlessly with old underlying systems.

Safety First! That’s been the culture in construction for most of my life, but as we all know, safety was not always the highest priority in decades past for our industry.

Back in the 70s, when OSHA, various trade associations, and — perhaps most importantly — the insurance carriers began cracking down on lax safety practices in construction, the pushback was epic. With already razor-thin profit margins, the additional direct and indirect costs of improving safety was a real threat to the businesses behind our built environment.

But people got over it, and now safety is taken seriously — well, at least a lot more seriously than it was a century ago.

Fast forward to present day and we can see that not only are our workplaces safer, but there is also a financial benefit to keeping workers safe. OHS Online reports the following:

Associated Builders and Contractors has released its 2017 Safety Performance Report, which reports that users of its Safety Training Evaluation Process, by using proactive safety practices, reduce recordable incidents by up to 87 percent — making the best-performing companies 770 percent safer than the industry average.

“ABC’s third annual report on the use of leading indicators, such as substance abuse programs and new hire safety orientations, confirms that high-performing ABC members have safer construction job sites,” said ABC President and CEO Michael Bellaman. “This is one of the few studies of commercial and industrial construction firms doing real work on real projects, and it shows that implementing best practices can produce world-class construction safety programs.”

Less job site accidents and injuries = more profit. It is that simple.

You can download a PDF version of the report for free at ABC’s website.

Google X — now just “X” — is a secretive skunkworks subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company that used to be simply known as Google. The company is famous for its “moon shot” experiments where big risks hopefully lead to big payoffs. But are the costs really worth it?

Julie Bort, at Business Insider, reveals the darker side of cutting-edge technology research and development practices, and the negative impact on the humans behind those efforts.

Some members of the Project Wing field team painted an alarming picture of hostile work conditions driven by engineers and managers back at headquarters who scheduled the group to conduct loads of tests, thereby producing loads of data, despite the long hours outdoors that such a schedule required.

What’s more, the field crew found much of their feedback and expertise on how to improve their circumstances discounted or ignored, in part, some say, because their backgrounds in the military were allegedly viewed disdainfully by others on their team.

“It was unconscionable” to make that team “work that hard,” one person told us about this team’s experiences.

The story of the drone crew reveals some of the problems that have plagued Google’s efforts to build advanced delivery drones, and it illustrates one of the risks when Silicon Valley’s worship of workaholism and data crash into real people doing physically demanding jobs. It’s a dangerous dynamic as companies like Google, Facebook, and cash-rich startups expand into new industries, from aerospace and delivery to space exploration and self-driving cars.

Appfluence, a project management software provider, recently did a guest post for Construction Junkie that shares the results of a survey the company conducted of 20 different construction project managers, as well as a handful of executives from various construction firms. Their goal was to establish a sort of benchmark by which other construction project management professionals could gauge their own daily progress.

Here is an overview of their findings:

Emails: If you find yourself dealing with more than about 40 emails per day, look for ways to cut back. One way to do this is make sure that each email contains clear, easy-to-follow instructions. This will reduce back-and-forth. For those of you spending too much time digging through your inbox, consider saving important correspondence and document as they are received in a system like Priority Matrix.

Meetings: While meetings can seem like a waste of time, as long as they are run efficiently, they are a great way to share information with your team. To get the most out of meetings, plan your meeting minutes according to pre-existing information about project status and close the meeting with clear action items for each individual.

Construction Document Management: Whether you’re using a software solution or simply shared folders to manage your documents, consider utilizing a project administrator to keep track of it all. If your projects aren’t large enough for a full-time person in this role, this position can act as the point-person for documents on number of projects for your firm simultaneously.

Project Management Software for Construction: Oftentimes, the software used on a project can be determined by factors outside of your control as a construction manager. However, the most important factor may not be the software itself, but earning your teams buy-in to use it consistently in order to keep information centralized in one place for quick access and effective operations.

In my experience, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of construction project management software. There are plenty of tools that can handle most, if not all aspects of a project, but as pointed out above, you don’t always have control over which tool will be used on a construction project.

The real key differentiator that I’ve seen between OK project managers and great project managers is that the great ones have their own internal workflows and processes that can be adapted to any tool available.

Safety First is the mantra we’ve been hearing for decades in the industry, and while construction has become much safer for workers, we clearly still have a long ways to go.

Fortune’s Anne Vandermey has more:

First, the good news in American workplaces: Four decades ago, 14,000 U.S. workers were killed on the job each year. Now, that number is closer to 5,000…

But not every industry is enjoying a decline in the number of accidents. As the construction industry climbs back toward its pre-recession peak, accidents are rising with it. There were 937 fatal work injuries in private construction in 2015—the highest number since 2008.

San Diego has been at the epicenter of the microbrewery and craft beer scene since the beginning. The neighborhood my wife and I lived in when we were first married went from being an affordable place to rent an apartment, to becoming the scene for artisanal brews. The hookers have been mostly displaced by hipsters.

Besides my own personal observations, and bold statements made by various pundits in the local beer scene, is there really anything to this craft beer explosion in San Diego? (more…)

When I found myself unemployed, I was understandably quite stressed, with a wife and three kids to support, no savings and no credit cards. But even in my darkest hours, I was still grateful to have moved on. Things have definitely improved for my own mental health now that I have found my dream job, but what about all those other folks out there? Is it better to be unemployed/underemployed or working at a lousy job?

There is a cliché: “The worst day fishin’ beats the best day workin’.” According to Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness, The Work Foundation and Honorary Professor at Lancaster University, one might also say that the worst unemployed still beats the best day at a dead-end job. In an article for the Conversation UK, Bevan states:

Psychosocial job quality involves the degree to which jobs promote control, autonomy, challenge, variety and task discretion. It effects the extent to which work enhances or diminishes our psychological well-being.

There’s a clear link between being engaged in “good work” and mental health. An important contribution to our understanding of this link has come from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey in Australia. It brings together a robust set of data that can be easily compared with other situations such as unemployment. The results, published by Peter Butterworth and colleagues at the Australian National University have global resonance for countries that are serious about developing an understanding of what being “better off” in work really means, beyond narrow economic definitions…

So now we have a slightly different answer to the question about the unemployed being better off in work. Yes they are, as long as they are in good-quality jobs. If they are in bad jobs, there is a perversely strong chance that they will be worse off – especially in terms of their mental health.

Source: The Conversation UK

The following article is published with permission from Mosaic, and was written by Lucy Maddox. “Mosaic is dedicated to exploring the science of life. Each week, we publish a feature on an aspect of biology or medicine that affects our lives, our health or our society; we tell stories with real depth about the ideas, trends and people that drive contemporary life sciences.”

Anything that changes how we feel emotionally can have an impact on our physical health too, according to the science of psychoneuroimmunology. (more…)