THE CONSTRUCTION staff at a home building company is a lot like the offensive line on a football team: all guts and very little glory. Salespeople make the big bucks and take home buyers out to lunch, while construction supers are out working in the hot sun or pouring rain. No wonder good supers are hard to find.
But many construction supers earn $60,000 to $75,000 a year with bonuses, so money alone is not the reason finding and retaining quality supers continues to be a perennial challenge. One problem is that there are not many formal training programs, so applicants who understand proper construction techniques and have the experience to manage jobsites are few and far between.
Moreover, young, bright, tech-savvy people in their 20s—the ones builders would love to hire—have lots of opportunities to work in high-technology or other professional jobs. Builders lament that they are forced to hire ineffective journeymen project supers who are slow to use new technology and don't have the people skills to interface well with today's buyers.
If you want employees who can manage projects effectively, make it clear that the people you hire are expected to learn the latest Web-based technologies and work cooperatively with all other parts of the business. This may require some extra technology and customer service training on your part, but you'll develop a better team.
By taking the time to train its staff, Gemcraft Homes in Forest Hill, Md., put a system in place that opens up better lines of communication with all parties in the process right from the start. At an initial meeting with the home buyer, salesperson, and project super, the buyer is given the super's business card and is told that it's company policy for supers to check their voice mail twice a day. “We tell our customers that our policy is for the super to get back to you within 24 hours,” says Brett Welsh, Gemcraft's vice president and regional manager.
The builder also sets up a meeting with the home buyer and super prior to the drywall going up to make sure no other changes are needed before the drywall and finish phase continue.
Builders looking to create effective teams should consider these five tips:
1 Require assessment tests. Don't be fooled by the number of years a super lists on his résumé. Before you bring a new person on to one of your jobsites, require them to take a test for competency and literacy in functional construction techniques. The test should cover topics ranging from building foundations to framing and on to finish carpentry. Follow up with assessments and reviews after 30 days, 90 days, and at the six-month mark. You may find that some people know about foundations and framing, but they are less skilled on the finish portion of construction. Find out their weakness and assign them to a mentor who has the specific subject knowledge the person lacks.
2 Teach your supers how to properly walk a house during construction. Consultant Steve McGee of Unify International says home builders don't like to admit it, but they were so busy during the housing boom that too many of their project supers never learned how to compile something as fundamental as a punch list. The average super typically uses his cell phone to ring the painter or the drywall contractor 20 or 25 times each to talk about everything from a schedule mix-up to a product change. This is a waste of everyone's time and will lead to tasks slipping through the cracks. Have your supers consolidate all the items on to a single punch list, then have them phone, fax, or e-mail the information to the subs.
Another big problem, says the Sharrow Group's Bill Carpitella, is that when supers walk a house during construction they tend to look for whether or not a particular trade showed up rather than look to see if the work is being done correctly. Too often the supers were never trained on what to look for. For example, during framing teach them to see if the 2x6s and 2x4s were seamed and caulked correctly. Construction defects can only be prevented when you have supers who know what they are doing walking your homes.