19 Oct 2021

Onsite to offsite: Where do project managers fit?

Construction
Onsite to offsite: Where do project managers fit?

As large portions of construction projects move from construction sites into factories, two professors predict the type of skills that will be in demand.

The conventional notion for project managers is to have a hard hat and heavy boots to control the processes in a construction site. Yet, will this be the case in forthcoming years? When larger portions of construction projects gradually move into factories, are project managers skilled enough to oversee assembly lines and manufacturing processes? Will the same number of project managers be needed to guide construction projects within a factory? Are the project managers skilled in dealing with complex multi-model production methods?

In this article Professor Srinath Perera and Buddhini Ginigaddara from the Centre for Smart Modern Construction (c4SMC), Western Sydney University discuss the prediction model c4SMC is creating to answer these types of questions, indicating what type of skills are needed for a project that has offsite construction elements.


What is offsite construction?

Researchers have identified the definite shift of construction from risky, wasteful, less-sustainable traditional onsite construction to safe, technology-driven, and environment-friendly offsite manufacturing facilities. Such a paradigm shift of construction gives birth to many new skills which are not quite common in a typical construction site.

In order to predict the possibilities of such skill changes, we have developed a typology of offsite construction that succinctly captures all the possible factory-made building elements.

As you can see in the pictures, there are five offsite construction types falling under non-volumetric and volumetric categories.

 Untitled-design.jpg


Image credits: XLam Australia and Modular Building Systems (MBS) Pty Ltd

Components have a severe resemblance to traditional onsite construction projects as they can be of any shape or size with the common examples of doors, windows, trusses, fittings and fixtures. Panels are flat surfaces that do not create usable space on their own. Factory-made floor, ceiling and wall panels are assembled onsite to erect an offsite constructed building.

The three volumetric types have an ascending order of complexity from pods, modules to complete buildings.

  • Pods are repetitive building elements such as bathrooms, kitchen units, apartments and prison cells that are identical to each other.

  • Modules are a part of a building where the combination of several modules will compute a complete building.

  • As such a complete building is a single unit, which is fully assembled and erected offsite to be simply transported and fixed onsite.


The role of project managers in offsite construction

The research included a rigorous review of 12 case studies to capture the skill quantities used in different offsite construction projects that fall under the developed typology. The skill quantities are recognised under six skill categories:

  1. Managers

  2. Professionals

  3. Trades workers and technicians

  4. Clerical and administration workers

  5. Machine operators and drivers

  6. Labourers

Out of these six skill categories, construction project managers are recognised, along with four other managerial positions of general managers, engineering managers, production managers, and supply, distribution and production managers. The diagram illustrates the utilisation of the skills of managers for the different offsite construction types.

Summary-of-Skills-Managers.JPG


The skills are quantified using ‘manhours/m2’ which indicates the number of manhours used to construct a single square meter of the gross floor area in a building. It presents how the use of construction project managers in complex offsite construction projects such as complete buildings are minimal compared to the other managerial positions such as production managers, and supply, distribution, and production managers.

Interestingly, construction project managers have been able to secure a considerably important position under panels, pods, and modules. Offsite construction requires early stakeholder engagement, and integration to manage the process of design, manufacturing, transportation, and assembly and the project managers are vital in handling these processes. As such, it is found that the project managers’ role has to evolve to match with offsite construction techniques which are not visible in a traditional construction site.


The way forward

The recommended actions to improve project managers’ capabilities in handling offsite construction projects are two-fold.

  1. The education providers have to be well-aware of these subtle changes in the profession, to incorporate them in their education programmes. The courses need to acknowledge the definite change of processes visible in the construction industry where manufactured building elements become a norm in any construction project. In this way, fresh graduate project managers will join the industry with the necessary theoretical and technical knowledge about offsite construction projects management.

  2. For those of you who are already accustomed to a traditional construction setting, you need to improve your competencies by attending short courses, seminars, and workshops through continuous professional development practices. Also, gaining experience at actual offsite construction projects will be the best way to master the skills of offsite construction project management.


Take the project manager self-evaluation quiz to assess your project experience to find out what the logical next steps should be for you in your career.

 project manager self assessment quiz


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