Document Detail

Title: FR-330 - Improving Frontline Supervision in Industrial Construction
Publication Date: 12/1/2018
Product Type: Final Report
Status: Tool
Pages: 60
Identifies how industry could train frontline supervisors to significantly enhance two areas: ten core competencies that are uniform across productivity regimes but currently underdeveloped, and how frontline supervisors allocate time to perform tasks on a daily basis. Co-sponsored with CURT.
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Frontline supervisors – foremen and general foremen – are the managers who translate construction execution plans into productive action. Despite their importance, they have been comparatively understudied. Recent productivity research has focused on new techniques, such as Advanced Work Packaging (AWP), or worker shortages and the lessening of craft skills. However, to implement any productivity improvement initiatives or to address worker skills, it is imperative to focus on the capabilities of foremen and general foremen. In order to conduct this research, limited to industrial construction, Research Team 330, The Role of Frontline Supervision in Improving Construction Productivity and Performance (RT-330), addressed frontline supervision in two ways:

1. The competencies of foremen and general foremen – RT-330 identified 10 core competencies, composed of a host of specific skills. These competencies are uniform across productivity regimes, varying only in detail. The 10 core competencies, in no specific order, encompassed the following specific skills:

  1. General Construction Knowledge
  2. Trade-specific Knowledge
  3. Verbal Communications
  4. Written Communications
  5. Pre-Planning
  6. Problem Solving
  7. Ethical Value System
  8. People Management
  9. Leadership
  10. Proactive and Goal-driven

This research validated the importance of these 10 competencies. The assessment of foremen and general foremen indicates that their levels of competency are lower than desired. Industry investment in frontline supervisor skills – for foremen in particular – is seen as one of the biggest opportunities for the industry to improve productivity and performance. This assessment is supported by low levels of training self-reported by both foremen and general foremen.

2. How frontline supervisors allocate their time across common tasks – RT-330 members identified specific tasks with reference to the common activities – from field leadership to administration – undertaken by foremen and general foremen during a typical day. The team developed a target time per activity – a range that reflects the most productive allocation to each task, considering the variety of activities that frontline supervisors must perform.

The team’s principal research findings were that foremen and general foremen, in aggregate, spend time on tasks in ways that are not productive compared to a target allocation. At an industry level, this indicates an enormous opportunity for improvement. The researchers discovered that training in AWP techniques improved foremen and general foremen’s time allocation on many tasks. This research provides added support for investment in AWP by the industrial sector.

The RT-330 research identified significant opportunities to enhance frontline supervisor skills and, thus, ways to improve how foremen and general foremen allocate their time every day. An overarching recommendation is that the industry must collectively invest in frontline supervisor skills. For individual firms, this report concludes with recommendations around screening, onboarding, development, and retention that may help readers to realize sizeable improvements. A summary recommendation around these activities is that firms need to take a deliberate approach to ensure that they select and develop their best talent.