Jobsite Supervisor Objections to Digital

by | Mar 23, 2023

Our List of Jobsite Supervisor Objections to Digital

The construction industry has struggled with a shortage of (documented) experienced labor for decades. Especially in the aftermath of the great recession of 2008-10. 

High experience jobsite supervisors are some of the highest paid/most in demand professionals in the industry. Contractors rely on them to make the company money. They are not just technology adoption influencers, but decision makers.

The overwhelming consensus is that the construction industry needs to adopt modern data-driven management techniques. Otherwise, it will never address its productivity and safety declines. The trade press publishes on this topic multiple times a week.

But a big blocker to faster adoption of digital solutions are these very important jobsite managers. What’s that all about? Why won’t they get with the digital program? Here are some objections we’ve encountered:

I’ve Got Too Much To Do Already

There’s a good argument to be made that this is true. Jobsite supervisors have a long list of responsibilities which we’ll cover in another post. But when a digital solution would actually make the job easier, then this one crossed over to the excuse category.

Not An Interesting Problem

Most supervisors have a background in the trades or engineering. Their motivation is Building, their identity that of a Builder, both with a capital “B”. Building is a physical experience more than an intellectual one. It generates a greater dopamine rush as you see a structure rise and overcome safety risks.

Process improvement and compliance is boring and digital data is not as important as building. If there’s one digital technology they’re closer to embracing, it’s the digitization of architectural and design documents. Whether its BIM or any other acronym, the more visual the better. Reports are boring. Disinterest in digital becomes an objection — digital is not a priority.

There’s Nothing In It for Me

Site supervisors are compensated for finishing a project at its bid cost, or make it up in change orders, ideally time and materials. Whether the company makes a profit is less of a concern to them.

Not surprisingly, if a technology doesn’t directly help the jobsite supervisor make more money, it’s going to be of lots less interest. Why take a risk when radio station WIFM (what’s in it for me) isn’t playing their song?

Not My Problem

The fact that paper forms are useless sources of data is a headquarters problem. Jobsite supervisors rely on their eyes and ears. Whenever possible, compliance costs including safety are pushed off to HQ and their overhead, not the project’s overhead.

You Can’t Make Me

Jobsite supervisors are some of a contractors most highly paid and important personnel. Most will only take on a project if their word goes.

There’s an inherent imbalance of power between senior jobsite supervisors and data technologists. Even if the supervisor is not really qualified to make technology decisions, they often do. It’s their way or the highway. It’s also one way firms end up using many duplicate apps.

The Project Already Started

Pretending that once a project is started, nothing can change is a favorite. Only the smallest projects don’t change personnel or scope once started, so it definitely qualifies as an excuse, not a good reason. Onboarding of non-employee subcontractor staff is a more or less continuous activity for most firms.

The Cost of Using Paper is “Minor”

They ignore the entirety of a contractor firm’s costs because their focus is only on their project. With a project perspective, you can easily argue that paper form costs are minor compared to, say, the rising cost of materials or tooling.

Those compliance costs should be buried with other HQ overheads in accounting, HR, risk, safety, etc. Not my project.

Nobody Needs Jobsite Data

Whether it is OSHA or some other local regulator, there is no requirement for digital data. Paper is just fine. Inspectors tend to be old school, and many were former supervisors themselves.

I’ll Enter the Data Myself, Really

Supervisors will make this excuse knowing that HQ will likely get tired of complaining that the project management software is never updated. Or updated late, or only partially, or with so many errors it’s pretty useless. You get the picture.

My Workers Will Quit

The generational labor shortage in construction is caused by too many job openings and too trained and experienced workers. The problem is especially acute with trade labor. That does give trade laborers more power.

Even though vax tracking can be easily done digitally, supervisors used the politicization of vaccinations to refuse digital solutions.

It Costs Too Much

This is probably the most BS of excuses: It’s equivalent, most of the time, to “I don’t want to.”. We heard it used for valuable services that cost less than a Starbucks a day.

My Workforce Doesn’t Have Cell Phones

This problem is probably the second most BS of excuses: Nobody operating in the North American economy lacks a smart phone. Yes, sometimes they are out of battery, or lost, but there are ways around those issues.

My Company Won’t Let Me

Many states require compensation for use of an employee’s cellphone in performance of their job. Rather than comp them $10 or $20 a month, many companies may, in fact, ignore digital efficiencies even though the payback is much more more than the monthly cell phone spiff.

I Don’t Believe It Will Work Reliably

Much of the newest digital solutions require good Internet connectivity. When cell network coverage is spotty, it’s a legitimate concern. Jobsite environments are not like offices. Custom WiFi might be required on some projects.

But most devices these days are designed for ubiquitous computing, able to operate even in weather. And products have improved usability, security and speed to the point where the “won’t work” objection is getting pretty weak.