August 22, 2007

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Retaining Employees in a Tight Labor Market
The construction industry’s labor market is notoriously transient, especially these days when it seems like there’s too much work and too few skilled laborers to do it. Quality-focused companies strive to establish consistency in the home building process, but in a tight labor market where cash is king, retaining loyalty among work crews has become almost an art form.

Because paying more isn’t always the final solution, keeping crews intact remains a challenge. Some common issues employers contend with include:

  • Crews abandoning ship because they are criticized for errors
  • Preferential treatment of a “good” employee being met with dissatisfaction from others
  • Choosing between accepting subpar craftsmanship or no workers at all
  • Competitors drawing crews away by offering higher wages

These obstacles don’t mean that the quality of a company’s work inevitability has to decline. Although ensuring quality results in a tight labor market is a challenge, there are approaches that successfully counter this negative trend.

The National Housing Quality (NHQ) Program, which was developed to provide builders and trade contractors with business solutions and systematic approaches to quality control, recommends that companies focus on a few basic methods to overcome these issues.

  • Respect the work force and give them reasons to put down roots; make the company a great place to work.

  • Always pay workers on time and with transactions early enough in the day to make bank deposits.

  • Provide ongoing training to keep workers informed of proper techniques and management expectations.

  • Create a genuine team environment by providing shirts, hats, or other unifying company attire.

  • Support employee development by inviting a tool supplier to the jobsite for a repair/adjustment seminar, to demonstrate proper operation methods, or to demonstrate new tools and applications.

  • Never discipline or embarrass an employee in front of his co-workers; rather, pull him aside to discuss the issue at hand.

  • Always praise employees in front of their co-workers if they go above and beyond or are an example of what the team should be.

  • Be open to hiring back a crew that took a job elsewhere, but did not get the satisfaction they were seeking.

Trade contractors of all types constantly scramble to keep qualified people on their jobs and to keep their builder customers satisfied, but the door swings both ways. Builders must provide the proper incentives to secure the best efforts of their trade partners, and continue to meet customer demand. Regardless of the state of the labor market, home buyers will always demand quality workmanship in their new home. It’s a tough job, but well-run companies across the country are applying these approaches and others, and continuing to satisfy their customers.

Keeping good workers on board takes more than just money. Respect, opportunities for growth, and a sense of community within the company are a good start. For more information on how applied quality assurance techniques can improve your business, visit

The preceding article originally appeared in TOOLBASE NEWS, a publication of the NAHB Research Center.

Increase Margins by Decreasing Paper
By Steve Neigh

Document imaging and management can be instrumental to improving your processes. These two related functions can increase margins by reducing the cost of doing business and improving communication to ensure that jobs are done right the first time. In short, an electronic document management solution can help your business "measure twice and cut once."

Static Imaging vs. Dynamic Management  

Document imaging converts paper documents to scanned images. Document management is what sets the scanning of business documents apart from creating a collection of family photos on your home PC.

Instead of simply saving documents to your hard drive or network, document management allows you to assign keywords to documents and search for the information you need based on specific criteria.

For example, you may want to review all documents related to a specific vendor or customer. Document management allows you to simply type in the name of the vendor or other search term(s) and gather a list of relevant documents. These documents can be cross-referenced, allowing users to move from one related document to another, such as a purchase order and a variance purchase order, simply by double clicking.

Document management also encompasses more than what traditionally is considered a document. E-mail, faxes, Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, reports from transactional systems — all can be stored and searched electronically in a single document management system. Going paperless makes these documents instantly available to everyone who has access to the system.

Also, unlike paper files, documents in a document management solution can be backed up to other media including CDs/DVDs or a tape drive.

These technologies can improve processes from accounting to managing change orders, and help track customer interactions from prospect through construction.

Questions about a job can be answered faster, whether they are raised by a supervisor during construction or years later by a home owner. You also can create strategies for improving processes that are prone to error, increased expense and/or potential liability and track the actions that were taken. These can range from maintaining an electronic audit trail of vendor contracts, insurance verifications and W-9s, to developing a method to avoid unnecessary variance in purchase orders, to ensuring that those who need to know are aware of change orders.

Given increasing warranty periods, maintaining a virtual job packet that includes everything about a home can significantly improve your ability to provide excellent customer service. Not only will this increase the probability that your customers will generate good “word-of-mouth” for your business, a virtual job packet could be invaluable in the event of arbitration.

Deployment Need Not Be Complex

Employing a document management system need not be expensive or complicated; a well-thought-out solution can be integrated with other business applications with virtually no programming.  It can be deployed incrementally, allowing you to purchase basic functionality and easily add users, increase volume, and implement more complex technology, as needs and budget dictate.

The system can be maintained in-house or hosted elsewhere for a monthly fee.

However, while choosing a solution that can be deployed rapidly and is easy to use will deliver nearly immediate improvements and pay for itself quickly, builders also need to calculate the total cost of ownership by investigating the cost of maintenance and enhancements, as you add users, document types, functions and provide remote access.

To implement a document imaging and management solution, consult a technology solution provider offering software and hardware products and with the experience to address the business needs of the home building market. Additional resources are available through the media and industry associations such as AIIM International (

Steve Neigh is a member and contributor to NAHB’s Business Management & Information Technology Committee and is the Vertical Lead for construction at Hyland Software, Inc., developer of OnBase® ECM software ( Steve has 12 years of experience in imaging/homebuilding. For more information, contact Steve at 440-788-5898 or via email at [return to top]

Is Your Jobsite Safe … Or Just Lucky?
By Paul E. Mashburn Jr.

If one of your jobsites were visited today by a Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), would it qualify for a “focused inspection”? Or would it be subject to a comprehensive inspection? 

Four Safety Hazards Cause 90% of Deaths and Injuries

A CSHO will be looking for violations and potential hazards. If your company has (1) an effective written safety program, and (2) a designated competent person responsible for and capable of implementing your safety program, then your jobsite may be eligible to have a “focused inspection.” That’s great, because the inspection will concentrate on looking for violations associated with the four main safety hazards that cause approximately 90% of workplace deaths and injuries in residential construction.

These four are:

  • Falls — the No. 1 cause of death in the construction industry (33%)

  • Struck by — falling objects, vehicles, etc., which ranks as the second most common cause of death (22%)

  • Caught-in — or between, cave-ins, unguarded machinery, equipment (18%)

  • Electrical Shock — from overhead power lines, power tools, cords, wiring and outlets (17%)

The CSHO determines which projects are eligible for focused inspections. On jobsites where OSHA determines that there is inadequate contractor commitment to safety and health, a comprehensive, resource-intensive inspection will be made. In other words, the latter group of employers will receive OSHA’s full attention.

Have a Written Safety, Health Program

An effective safety and health program starts at the top, with management commitment to a “zero-accident” goal that begins with the owner of the company and is embraced by all of its employees. Having a written safety and health program is the next step. The program should explain the company’s commitment to safety and how employees and trade partners also are responsible for integrating safety into every aspect of their jobs.

As builders, most of us have very few of our own employees on our jobsites, so why do we need to be concerned about compliance with OSHA Standards for the Construction Industry(29 CF PART 1926)?

Who Is Responsible?

OSHA will typically hold accountable the employer who has exposed his or her employees to unsafe conditions, as well as the employer who may have caused or created the unsafe conditions. For a single violation, multiple citations may be issued to:

  • Creating Employer — that caused a hazardous condition

  • Exposing Employer — whose own employees are exposed to the hazard

  • Correcting Employer — responsible for correcting a hazard   

A recent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission administrative court decision now bars OSHA from issuing a citation to a construction employer merely because it was a "controlling employer," usually the builder in charge of the job.

This "controlling employer" interpretation has been the grounds for nearly all citations issued to general contractors. Under this interpretation, builders could be cited for safety violations of trade contractors, whether or not the builder caused — or even knew about — the hazard.

But even in light of the recent decision, builders still should strive for safe working conditions for everyone on the jobsite — their own employees, trade partners, vendors, customers and invited visitors.

Most Citations Go toTrade Contractors

From 2004 to 2005, there were 8,879 citations issued against general contractors (builders) versus 24,414 citations issued against trade contractors.

This demonstrates the importance of our construction managers and superintendents focusing on trade contractor practices as a way to improve jobsite safety and ensure compliance with safety standards.

Willie Sutton’s response to the question of why he robbed banks was, “because that was where the money was.” If some three-out-of-four citations are issued to trade contractors, you can see the potential positive impact of builders demanding that jobsite safety be a priority for their trades.

Many small building companies wrongly believe that implementing a safety program is too difficult or too time consuming. Perhaps this is why small-volume builders are the source of most of the fatalities in residential construction.

Within the past seven years, 15% f the fall, scaffold or overhead power line fatalities occurred on weekends. In 2004, half of the fatalities occurred on Saturdays. As a result, OSHA is now randomly conducting inspections of construction sites operating on weekends.

Jobsite safety is not just about avoiding a citation from OSHA. It’s about avoiding hazards. It’s about making sure that you have an effective safety program within your company — no matter how big or small your company may be. It’s about ensuring that your superintendents and construction managers are maintaining a safe, clean jobsite, and that all your trade contractors and vendors use safe work practices. And finally, it’s about sending everyone home at the end of the work day to their families, safe and injury free.

Paul E. Mashburn is the 2007 vice chair of the NAHB Single Family Small Volume Builders Committee and an instructor for The NAHB University of Housing.

NAHB and the  NAHB Research Center (, have joined with OSHA to develop several training seminars and publications to teach our members how to develop and implement effective safety and health programs for their companies. A CD-ROM, which provides a model safety program that can be customized and adapted to meet the safety needs of individual businesses, is included in several University of Housing designation courses. Contact the NAHB Labor, Safety and Health Department for information on additional resources and services, at 800-368-5242 x8507 or x8590.

Within the past seven years, 15% of the fall, scaffold or overhead power line fatalities occurred on weekends. In 2004, half of the fatalities occurred on Saturdays. As a result, OSHA is now randomly conducting inspections of construction sites operating on weekends. [return to top]

Bring Your Toolkit to Work
Do you want to make your home building business more efficient? Do you know the best ways to market your product? What are the qualities to look for in a good employee; and conversely, how can you avoid the hassles of hiring the wrong employee?  

The answers to all this and more can be found on Get a taste of some of what the Web site has to offer in the form of the Sales and Marketing Tookit recently developed by NAHB.

This free booklet offers useful guidance and tips on business management, sales, and marketing. It features great members-only content that can only, until now, be found on the Web site. After you read through its pages, log on to to find even more great members-only resources.

Members can print a PDF of the booklet — or order hardcopies — for free from the Web site. [return to top]

Custom Home Builder Symposium Drawing Near; Register Now to Save $$$
The 2007 Custom Builder Symposium is soon upon us. Set aside Oct. 26-28 for a luxurious stay at the Naples Grande Resort & Club in sunny Naples , Fla. The Symposium is the gathering that you don’t want to miss, and promises not only excellent educational opportunities, informative speakers and a look at exclusive custom homes in progress by leading custom home builders, but also networking opportunities and the much anticipated golf tournament sponsored by Pella Windows.

The hotel offers beachfront areas, tennis courts, fitness center and spa, as well a many other amenities. Special room rates are available for $189 (single/double) per night, plus taxes; and the resort fee is waived for Symposium attendees. Rooms are going quickly, so register online today here and enter code FQ4204.

If you’re an NAHB member, you already receive a discounted registration cost, but if you register before Aug. 24, your early bird registration will reduce your rate even more. You can call 888-422-6177 to register or go to the following link: Register Here. 

Your registration fee includes fantastic education sessions and a take-home workbook, breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday, a welcome reception, and opportunities to network with product sponsors. Optional activities will take place Oct. 24 through the 27. Optional activities include the pre-symposium designation courses and golf tournament sponsored by Pella Windows, the Home Tour sponsored by Lutron where you can preview custom homes at various stages of development built by leaders in the industry, as well as the NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year Award Dinner.

If you’ve already registered for the Symposium, but have not yet reserved your tickets to the NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year Award Dinner, call Marcia Childs at 800-368-5242 x8388, or send an e-mail to to confirm your spot. [return to top]

A Special Thanks to the 2007 Custom Home Builder Symposium Sponsors
Home Technology Alliance Founding Sponsor

2007 Custom Builder Symposium Home Tour Sponsor

2007 Custom Home Builder of the Year Award Sponsor

2007 Custom Home Builder Golf Tournament Sponsor

Saturday Luncheon Sponsor

Hotel Key and Room Drop Sponsor

Workbook Sponsor

Tote Bag Sponsor

Lanyard Sponsor

Sunday Breakfast

Roundtable Sponsor

Sunday Lunch and General Session Sponsor

Welcome Reception

Coffee Break Sponsors

Participating Sponsors






Media Sponsors

                [return to top]

For more information or to contact us directly, please visit l ©2007, National Association of Home Builders

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