The problem is real, and it’s getting more critical with each passing quarter. Nationally, construction spending is at an all-time high—a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors finds that 75% of member firms expected to add head count. But 78% of those firms have found it nearly impossible to find and retain qualified workers, let alone skilled craftsmen.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the construction industry has seen little increase in productivity over the past 80 years. McKinsey & Co. reports that “While many U.S. sectors including agriculture and manufacturing have increased productivity ten to fifteen times since the 1950s, current measurements find that there has been a consistent decline in the construction industry’s productivity since the late 1960s.”

Riviera Point Corporate Center at Miramar in Florida.
Riviera Point Corporate Center at Miramar in Florida.

There is, however, one stunning example of innovation and increased productivity that has changed the concrete industry: The advances in tilt-up building technologies from the rudimentary, dull concrete boxes of the 1950s and 1960s to the spectacular multistory, Class A office buildings of today. The rapid evolution in tilt-up construction is a compelling example of change and dramatically increased productivity driven by innovation. The combination of new technologies in the construction of concrete structures, the application of complex engineering analysis made possible by computers, the new products that continue to be introduced by manufacturers, and the architecture profession’s embrace of the tilt-up concept have changed the face of the building industry. Tilt-up today is the fastest form of construction, from conception to completion.

The dynamic growth of tilt-up has measurably increased productivity. When the labor-intensive masonry industry faced challenges of labor shortages decades ago, tilt-up filled the void. It takes one-third of the labor and half the time to construct a concrete tilt-up wall as it does a masonry wall. The productivity of one mobile crane has replaced 10 hard-to-find skilled masons.

The grassroots level of innovation continues today in tilt-up concrete. The founding of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association in 1986 not only provided a vital voice for tilt-up but importantly has provided technical guidelines and training and serves as a critical vehicle for introducing innovative products into the industry.

The following is a small sampling of the revolutionizing technological advances that have led us to the current state of the tilt-up industry:1980s: Laser Screed replaced labor that is physically demanding and prone to injury, and Thermomass introduced integrally insulated concrete wall panels.
1990s: Scott Brick Systems opened a new world of architectural panel finishes that allowed thin brick to be installed on concrete panels.
2000s: Accubrace helical anchors made exterior panel braces possible.
2010s: Connect-EZ recently introduced a series of engineered devices that reduce field welding.

The labor shortage in the construction industry is real, and with the unemployment rate at a historic low of 3.7% the problem is not going to solve itself. Innovation at the industry level, in the field, at the professional level in engineers’ and architects’ offices, and in manufacturers’ shops and plants have been, and will continue to be, the answer. As an industry we simply must embrace change. That is, innovation!

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