Navigating the New Normal: Addressing the cost and availability of labor and supplies in 2022

Shutterstock / Nosorogua
Shutterstock / Nosorogua
Published On
Jan 14, 2022

The cost of materials is up, so availability is down. The cost of labor is up and availability is down. How can you plan for 2022 with these factors working against you?

First, let’s look at the root cause. We are in this predicament due to a disease. Many businesses are attempting to follow the federal mandate to have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19. It is important because—at its core—the mandate protects children and those with underlying conditions. Read “The Patience of Recovery” on page 20 to learn more about how COVID-19 is projected to impact the industry in 2022.

It appears three things are happening with the construction labor force. The first is fear of catching the virus. Second, many workers have reconsidered their futures, and finally, many industries are searching for labor and offering premium wages and hiring bonuses. Your customers may also be trying to steal your employees.

Paying close attention to management of project materials so that your employees can complete work unhindered by equipment shortages will help to reduce their on-the-job stress—especially when the project manager is being pressured to finish so the owner can get their certificate of occupancy (CO). The fire alarm system is one of, if not the last, systems to be finalized. It is also the system that, if not accepted by the authority having jurisdiction, will delay the CO.

In the past, fire alarm system equipment was purchased from the low bidder. Today, many parts needed for a fire alarm system are manufactured outside of the United States, which means there will be major delays in obtaining materials.

Buy your fire alarm system from a supplier that stocks what they sell and does not wait to order from the manufacturer. You do not want to discover that the fire alarm control unit (FACU) will not be available for a long time after you installed all the detection devices and notification appliances. When the devices are in, you are locked in to one FACU manufacturer.

Additionally, the FACU will need programming, which requires supplier personnel trained in the FACU’s nuances. So in addition to the total equipment delivery, the supplier must have enough trained system programmers to correctly finalize and program your system in time for the final acceptance test.

Good time to reevaluate

This is an opportune time to rethink how you approach complex systems such as new fire alarm systems on the market today. Think about using one supplier that stocks all the equipment the project requires and is willing to train one or two of your technicians to program the FACU. Planning ahead and obtaining this training will ensure technicians see a growth opportunity. This also removes one bottleneck to getting your fire alarm system approved.

The fire alarm industry is changing, so you need to partner with a reputable, forward-thinking fire alarm system supplier. NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and other codes and standards change regularly. Even as the NFPA technical committees try to stay current with new technology, the code will always be three years behind.

Be aware of technology changes and ensure you comply with them. With design-build projects, you will undoubtedly be called on to value engineer (VE) a project. And you normally would ask your fire alarm supplier to also participate in the VE process.

A word of caution: Do not only focus on reducing the equipment cost. I recently had a project that reduced the complete coverage with smoke detectors to corridor-only protection. But they had to add more than 300 duct-type smoke detectors. Obviously the VE went the wrong way. The cost will increase exponentially due to duct smoke detectors’ inaccessibility during final construction. In addition, if they are code-compliant, they should be adding a remote alarm indicator and a remote test switch for each duct smoke detector, creating additional installation work.

It’s time to change operational strategies. To grow your business in 2022, you will need to increase your technicians’ pay and offer them growth opportunities to differentiate your company from the competition. Having the technical information to be more efficient and effective in all areas of the fire alarm systems normally encountered in your projects will ensure your growth. Focus on suppliers who understand your needs and stock all the equipment.

By considering potential “showstoppers” in this post-pandemic environment, you will be able to reduce your own stress and grow a profitable company.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.