By Judah Lifschitz

Though I make my living in the courtroom, I have been a strong advocate for the mediation of construction disputes for many years. Quite frankly, it is the best thing ever to happen to the process of resolving construction disputes. While there are many reasons why parties should and do consider mediation, none could be as compelling as its high success rate. Many contracts, including the current AIA forms, give the option for mediation when a dispute arises. In addition, most courts will require mediation as part of the litigation process. Therefore, it’s important to understand the process of mediation.

What is mediation? Mediation is a confidential, “off the record,” non-binding process which seeks to achieve a mutually acceptable settlement. It is marriage counseling for businesses. It is successful when both sides are interested in reaching a resolution as opposed to winning. Mediators have no decision-making powers. Their role is that of a “persuader” – explaining to each side why a given settlement is in their best interests and persuading all parties to achieve a settlement. Mediation is a voluntary process. Parties are free to withdraw from the mediation at any time without either penalty or adverse effect. If there is an agreement on settlement terms, a binding settlement agreement is drafted and implemented and the dispute/litigation is resolved. If there is no agreement on settlement terms, nothing discussed during mediation can be admitted in the courtroom and the parties proceed with the litigation.

When is the best time to mediate? The best time to mediate is before the parties spend a lot of money on discovery. Whenever I propose mediation to another lawyer and he or she tells me they need to do discovery first, I immediately recognize that the likelihood of having a mediation, yet alone a successful one, has gone down dramatically because all the money spent in the discovery process will not be available for settling the dispute.

What are some best practices for mediation? In my many years of professional experience, it amazes me how many lawyers and clients come unprepared to mediation. They show up with just a legal pad and a pen and are unprepared to make a presentation to the other side. In my opinion, there is no such thing as mediation without presenting an effective “toned down” advocacy presentation in the opening session. Obviously, the presentation should be constructive to encourage discussion and effectively educate the other side on the issues. The presentation should also reflect a will and a determination to move forward in court, if necessary. It also is imperative that all parties have the real decision-makers present.

How does one select a mediator? Although there are various reasons why mediations succeed or fail, a key ingredient for success is selection of an outstanding mediator. Therefore, I always recommend using a mediator who possesses both subject-matter expertise and broad experience in resolving disputes among all construction industry participants.

Judah Lifschitz is principal and co-president of Shapiro Lifschitz & Schram, P.C. He has extensive experience in construction related matters, including significant experience in power and energy construction representing clients with regard to EPC contracts as well as disputes. His trial experience includes winning one of the largest liquidated damages awards in the history of the construction industry. He recently authored a chapter in the ABA’s Construction ADR book.

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By Michael Gonzalez

Although the construction sector was hard hit during the recession, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that construction will rebound fully between 2010 and 2020 and grow jobs to its pre-recession-level. This is excellent news for people looking for lucrative and steady work in building trades. There are many interesting, well-paid jobs in the construction industry.

Here are four positions and their respective salaries (provided by that are projected to have faster than average job growth.

1. Construction Manager - Construction managers work in offices and on job sites, coordinating all of the different parts of a construction job. As construction is projected to grow in the coming years, the demand for construction managers will also increase. Construction managers require a bachelor's degree plus on the job training, and earn a median wage of $82,790. Many need to work evenings and weekends, especially when emergencies arise on site.

2. HVAC Technician - HVAC technicians make an average of $43,640 per year. Installing and maintaining heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment in homes and businesses, HVAC technicians must have good working knowledge of a wide range of equipment and be skilled at working with their hands in small spaces where HVAC equipment has been installed. While some candidates may learn on the job, employers typically prefer candidates that have had post-secondary training through programs like Penn Foster, or other schools were specialized degrees can be earned.

3. Cement Mason - Cement masonry jobs are projected to grow faster than average from 2012-2022, and many workers can get started in the field with on the job training. Apprenticeships offer another path to the job. Cement masons mix, shape, and pour cement for floors, paths, roads, sidewalks, driveways, and other surfaces. They can also work with terrazzo, a form of mosaic work. The median salary for cement masons is $35,830 per year.

4. Cost Estimator - While a cost estimator does occasionally get down and dirty at the construction site, he also spends time going over job budgets and crunching numbers indoors. Cost estimators need a wide body of knowledge about construction jobs, existing site resources, cost estimating software, building information modeling software, and computers. Some cost estimators may budget the cost for the entire scope of a project, while others may work only on specific details, such as the cost estimate for new building electricity. Cost estimators generally need a bachelor's degree and may find a background in mathematics useful. The median salary for this position is $58,860. For more additional information on cost estimator careers, US News: Money Career page has a great overview of salary, training and reviews.

Michael Gonzalez is a residential home builder and father who tweets tips on DIY home maintenance.

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By Alan Pearl

The transition from employee to supervisor is not an easy one.  Employees who are doing a great job are very often rewarded with a promotion to supervisor, which means additional work and responsibilities, usually with little to no training and mentoring. Their reward for good work is to stop doing it and take on new responsibilities.  Our tips for a successful transition to supervisor include:

  • Gain the support of your team by meeting with the team and acknowledging this is a change for all, the supervisor is playing a different role and is committed to the team being successful in accomplishing its objectives, and that he/she needs their help;
  • Meet with each person on the team to get to know everyone; all must perceive they will be treated fairly, not according to who his/her friends have been;
  • Understand each person's strengths and areas for development and open the discussion on these topics;
  • Don't play favorites with friends.  Treat each employee fairly and consistently to gain a good reputation; and
  • Recognize that the job of a supervisor is different from the job of the worker.  The responsibilities of supervising, monitoring and ensuring objectives and deliverables are being met is different from stepping in and doing the job.  Even though he/she is in a new position, his/her success and theirs derive from the same factors.

Supervisors must understand their reputation is at stake and that employees like to gossip.  Supervisors should only practice what they preach.  The verbal and nonverbal workplace behaviors have to be in synch. Supervisors who ask for training  and look for mentors to help them will succeed better than those who think they can do it by themselves.  Supervisors who identify opportunities for and train members of their team will help build the reputations of others as well as the supervisor's reputation as an effective supervisor. Successful supervisors of people go for the little wins.  Ambitious new supervisors want to change the world in a day but that is impossible.  Success is built on a continuous series of little wins. It is a process over time.  Establish a few challenging goals for the team to activate  in the short term.  Let the team succeed, and then, recognize the work in a meaningful way. Don't take credit for others achievements,  and give credit where credit is due. Tell them you want them all to have the same opportunity to get ahead by maintaining the success in the department that got you promoted. The less you have to point out your authority, the better job you are doing.

Alan Pearl has represented management clients as both a consultant and in a legal capacity for over 35 years. Alan began his career as a labor attorney representing unions, and currently serves as a counsel to PMP and the principal partner and trial attorney for Alan B. Pearl & Associates, P.C.

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By Kent Goetjen

Thousands of shale basins are coming online every year. How can oil and gas companies begin optimizing their returns in shale development? They can do so by aligning their operating expenses, capital investment and resources around a common set of processes across the entire spectrum of development and production. Engineering and construction (E&C) firms can better support their oil and gas clients’ pursuit of shale development by quickly and efficiently responding to complex challenges. E&C companies should embrace opportunities for innovation and rapidly evolving management practices.

In “Shale Gas: New conventions for unconventional development -- Reducing the Drag,” the first installment of PwC’s shale series, we detailed an integrated planning model. E&C firms taking this approach can help oil and gas companies improve asset utilization, reduce cycle times, and eliminate waste, thereby strengthening connections between functions and increasing returns on capital.

In “Optimizing the Play,” the second part of our series, we show how E&C companies can use the acquired skills and core competencies that they have already developed through managing large-scale engineering projects. By leveraging its existing skills and well-practiced flexibility, an E&C firm can take a leadership role in shale development, help companies address unexpected developments across a wide spectrum of processes, and become a highly valued partner for its oil and gas clients. What does optimization require? For starters, it’s about balancing supply and demand to make the right resources available where and when needed. That means practicing “manufactured drilling” – balancing the forecast demand for labor, equipment, rentals, and materials with constraints in the organization and its supply chain. Well development and manufacturing share a key characteristic, a general process that repeats tens of thousands of times.

Effectively applying S&OP processes to shale can help reduce cycle times and costs in shale development. Increasing return on capital employed can drive advancing performance. Companies can benefit by becoming more strategic when it comes to project costs (labor, equipment, materials), project schedule (project-completion time) and asset revenue (product, price, and rate of production). Consequently, an organization can significantly reduce its costs and cycle times. Finding the efficient frontier is all about gaining a close-up view of the information needed to optimize the investment portfolio. Which projects fit? Which don’t, and why? When it comes to investment decisions around shale development, three factors are key: choice of well to drill; choice of facility, pipeline, or road to construct; and choice of maintenance activities. Finally, standard valuation models can be deployed. But two types of risk valuation should also be considered – reserve risks, taking into account the uncertainty around ground reserves and rates of well decline; and commodity price risk, hinged on the fluctuations of liquid and gas prices, and the impact of market forecasts and decisions regarding prioritizing investments.

For more information, see PwC’s Optimizing the Play

Kent Goetjen ( is PwC’s U.S. Engineering & Construction industry sector leader. He has more than 30 years of experience providing service to clients in the engineering and construction industry.

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By Karen Gibson

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports the top four construction hazards are falls, being struck by moving and falling objects, being caught in-between walls of a trench or construction equipment and a wall, and electrocutions. Construction sites are as safe or as hazardous as the work practices and attention to safety awareness of those who work there. Although there are many potential safety hazards at construction worksites, there are ways to make them safer.

Fall Prevention

OSHA requires fall protection for workers on surfaces with unprotected sides or edges from which they can fall. Employers must provide fall protection, assess the worksite for fall hazards and train workers on fall protection systems. Guardrails, safety nets, fall arrest systems and guards and covers for openings or holes all make worksites safer from fall hazards. Ladders present fall hazards on construction worksites and should be inspected for broken or defective parts before use and used properly to be safe. They should be securely set up and not loaded with more weight than they are made to support.

Struck-By Hazards

OSHA describes struck-by hazards as existing any time a worker could be struck or hit by a falling, moving or flying object. All equipment and vehicle traffic on construction sites creates struck-by hazards, especially when used for unintended purposes. Avoid this by renting the right machinery from rental companies. The right size equipment, such as a front loader instead of a Bobcat for large trenches, or forklifts instead of manual lifting or using wheelbarrows for large materials, helps workers do their jobs safely and more efficiently. Keeping a clean and clear site will also prevent hazardous materials that workers could trip on or get struck or cut by. Companies like Next Day Dumpsters offer roll-off bins you can use to keep your area clean. They have  facilities all over the country, including near major cities like Baltimore. Using safe work practices to prevent struck-by hazards include using personal protective equipment such as hard hats and safety goggles, proper material storage and handling, and work zone safety awareness and signage. In addition:

  • Hard hats protect workers from falling objects and safety goggles protect workers from flying debris from grinding, striking and sanding tools.
  • Safe storage and handling of materials includes securing loads so they don’t fall on workers, keeping materials neatly stacked and sorted, inspecting rigging before use, and never walking or working under a load of materials.
  • Work zone safety practices include clearly marking traffic areas where construction will take place, and using physical barriers to protect workers from moving traffic.

Caught In-Between Hazards

Safety training helps workers recognize and avoid caught-between hazards. Construction managers can use OSHA training resources such as etools to train workers about safety during trenching operations. Caught in-between hazards and safety procedures on construction worksites include:

  • Cave-ins: Sides of trenches must be shored or supported to prevent cave-ins.
  • Body parts pulled into unguarded machinery and equipment: Workers should never use unguarded equipment or machinery on a busy construction worksite.
  • Standing between the swing radius of cranes and other equipment such as backloaders and frontloaders: Barricades must be put in place before operating swinging equipment and workers should make eye contact with the operator before approaching.
  • Being caught between equipment and non-moving objects such as walls, construction materials or other equipment.


Prevent electrocution hazards by never using portable metal or conductive ladders near energized overhead power lines, per OSHA regulations. OSHA recommends only wooden or fiberglass ladders for work near power lines and contacting the power company to de-energize the lines before starting work.

Hiring Safety-Conscious People

Employees who are conscious about safety and avoid risky work habits will ultimately make your worksite a safer place. According to Michigan Municipal League, when hiring a new employee make sure he or she has the appropriate license, training and skills, as well as a clean employment record. This will ensure that you're hiring someone who will not only perform well on the job, but know how to avoid worksite accidents.

Karen Gibson is an HR specialist and consultant for contractors. She likes to give tips on safety standards and works to help improve safety in the construction industry.

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By M.G. Bachemin

Construction sites are the location of some truly amazing technology and creativity. It is an incredibly rewarding profession to watch something grow from a sketch into a edifice and then to pass by that structure and see your hard work stand the test of time. While working in construction can be very rewarding, it also can be extremely dangerous. There are a number of potential risks that every employee, contractor and client must understand when beginning a new project. Take a look at some of these liability situations that can arise and make sure that your next construction project is as safe and protected as possible so you can avoid unwanted consequences.  

1. General Liability Insurance Every contractor should have a kind of general liability insurance. This kind of insurance protects the contractor in case of injury and property damage. Make sure that you are familiar with your state’s construction insurance and liabilities policies as they change from state to state. Being aware of these kinds of conditions is crucial when negotiating contracts and agreement terms. Having the right amount of coverage for your employees and your business can keep you afloat if the need arises to use it.  

2. Injury Construction laborers work in one of the most accident-prone industries. Whether it is from lack of attention, faulty equipment or just an unforeseeable accident, construction workers are the frequent flyers of emergency rooms. To avoid the most common of injuries, make sure the employees are properly trained in cases of emergency. Training, such as using a defibrillator, or how to stabilize someone that has fallen, can lessen the risk of injury on the job and can even help you find better insurance policies. Make sure that employees are properly trained in new equipments and standards. The best defense is a great offense. Fight the injuries before they happen.  

3. Damage and Prevention The problem with construction technology is that while it is incredibly intuitive and high performing, there are still aspects of the job that can go awry. Sometimes pipes burst, foundations crumble, structures become damaged, equipment malfunctions, and it is the job of the employees and the contractors to act quickly to avoid danger and repair the damages. Ask your contractor what kind of site accidents they have seen and how they responded to them. You need contingency plans when it comes to any kind of construction. Prevention of said damage is a great way to decrease the amount you pay in insurance. Using things such as proper scaffolding, fencing or cable protectors allows for less risk, and therefore less required by insurance companies.  

4. Proper Uniform It is important to demand that employees recognize and adhere to uniform requirements. It may seem superfluous to make employment like construction, where there is a large amount of stains, rips and dirt, have a uniform. But a construction worker’s uniform is directly related to their safety. They need to wear durable jeans and shirts to protect them from cuts and scraps. Hard hats are a must to protect from falling debris or a fall from a height. If working at night, reflective clothing is necessary so that they can be clearly seen and protected. Other raiment like gloves, safety goggles, and rubber-soled and/or steel-toed work boots also can help to protect employees from danger and contractors from liability disputes.

M.G. Bachemin is a marketing associate for Brahman Systems. Learn more about increasing jobsite safety at

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By Jason Kane

Whether you are constructing a single-family home or a skyscraper, construction costs are considerable, from hauling materials to worker payroll. Because of budget and time limitations, many construction companies overlook environmentally sound ways to make each site a greener place. There are several inexpensive ways to improve the local environment during construction, allowing companies to improve their image and reduce overall pollution.

Choose Local Materials

Avoid flying or hauling in materials that are hundreds of miles away. Construction companies can use local resources for lumber, fasteners and tools. When trucks transport these goods, they do not drive very far. Companies save on fuel and transport time. The environment benefits with less fossil fuel emissions entering the local air mass. Even employee overtime drops because hauling trucks are not stuck in traffic, saving companies hundreds of dollars. Wear and tear on vehicles drops as well. Construction companies could potentially put those savings into local environmental businesses to boost their image and help the Earth at the same time.

Using Soil And Dirt On-Site

When construction companies first survey a site, the dirt or soil is one of the top concerns. A large building must be supported by firm soil, but many areas have poor soil conditions. One of the fastest ways to fix the soil problem is hauling in new dirt from another area. However, fuel and emissions are negative side effects of this hauling habit. Construction companies should amend the site's soil instead of replacing it. There is no need to send an expensive truck out for new soil. Amending the soil is much more cost-effective. It must be compacted afterward, whether it was amended or replaced, to support the building above.

Construction Material Waste Control

One area needs to be set up for woodcutting. By centralizing operations, all workers can find the supplies they need with less waste. There is no need to run out to buy new wood, costing the company in fuel, materials and pollution emissions. Lumber does not have a chance to be lost on the site, such as down a side hill. Lost materials only pollute a neighborhood and cost the company money for replacements. Any leftover materials can be recycled for another job, or taken to a recycling facility to keep items out of landfills.

Electrically-Driven Machines

One of the largest expenses and pollutants on a construction job site is diesel-powered machines. Diesel provides the strength to lift, push or pull heavy objects. However, many machines now have an electrical option. Because most companies cannot afford to simply buy an electrical machine, such as a crane, they can rent one. Although there is a rental charge, the machine does not need to be filled with expensive diesel. The company saves money even with the rental charges, along with contributing to a green neighborhood. Construction companies have many choices when it comes to green job sites. Foremen should look over construction design and site management policies to alter everyday practices. Going green can be less expensive than continuing on a pollution pathway.

Jason Kane is a professional blogger who has had plenty of other "day jobs." He is currently a blogger for Federal Steel Supply Inc., the preferred steel pipe supplier of the global community. Have an idea about a guest blog for Construction Today?

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By Ryan Jensen

Although we are entering the end of the winter season, March will certainly bring a few final snow and ice storms to communities across the nation before warmer weather begins to settle in. That’s why contractors working with spray polyurethane foam (SPF) must remain vigilant about keeping the product at the manufacturer’s suggested temperature ranges.

If not stored correctly throughout the entire winter, SPF chemicals that are exposed to temperatures between 20 degrees Fahrenheit and 47 degrees Fahrenheit will freeze. More importantly, the chemical changes viscosity and degrades in a process known as Viscosity Drift. The foam thickens, making it difficult to use and stalling the pumps. Every 18 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature causes the SPF to double its viscosity. Once this process occurs, it’s difficult to recover the product. In most cases, it’s simply a loss to the project’s bottom line. Contractors have tried a variety of ways to protect SPF, and one popular method is the use of band heaters. Perhaps this is because heat bands are less expensive, easier to transport, and less cumbersome to store. However, these high-heat flux-style heaters localize heat, which damages the product and the drum. In addition, band heaters have unreliable thermostats that overheat the product, which impacts the foam ratio, increases density and results in loss coverage by the applicator.

According to the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), low-heat flux blanket-style heaters are the ideal solution. Heat blankets deliver safe, uniform heat to temperature-sensitive products and materials; prevent product waste by maintaining consistent temperatures; use energy efficient technology that saves time and money; and provide accurate and reliable thermostats. When selecting a heat blanket, it’s important to look for a technology that provides an even heat transfer. This means the temperature is the same across the entire surface of the blanket. There are no hot or cold spots.  Digital thermostat controls add an additional layer of protection, enabling contractors to select an optimal temperature. Customers who hire a contractor to install spray foam insulation do so because they want an effective and cost-efficient way to insulate their homes. It makes sense that these same contractors also want an effective and cost-efficient way to protect their SPF.  Although they most cost more, investing in heating blankets instead of heat bands to protect spray foam is a decisions that will pay off both in short -term projects and long term-profits.

Ryan Jensen is director of marketing for PowerBlanket, a manufacturer of heating blankets.   

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By Erica Pierce

Contractors enjoy a lot of opportunity but face just as many challenges. Operating legally and profitably requires attention to detail and good use of resources such as an organized system to track expenses, create estimates, and budgeting for rainy days. 

Receipts and Expenses Forms

Contractors running their own companies pay many expenses out of their own pockets and need an easy, effective system to keep tax and VAT accounting records. A good system also ensures contractors don’t miss out on eligible claims. To claim everything allowable by the taxman, contractors must have documented expenses that follow HMRC rules.

Receipts are proof of business expenses. Contractors who are registered with VAT especially need receipts to claim VAT expenses. Although contractors can claim expenses any time, it’s most efficient to do it weekly, monthly or quarterly. Make sure expense forms include date of the expenditure, what the expense is for and the exact amount of the expense. A simple spreadsheet with columns labeled for date, amount, location and purpose will help you recall what the expenses are for come tax time.

Checklists for Estimates

In “Running a Successful Construction Company,” David Gerstel suggests using checklists to gather information for estimates. Again, this is where a spreadsheet will be useful. Gerstel says leaving the cost of items out of estimates will hurt contractors more than getting costs wrong, and using procedures and checklists helps with good calculations. Gathering information for contractor work requires several types of checklists to get the specific information that affects costs. These are the checklists that Gerstel recommends:

  • Plan Study and Preparation Checklist – create a list of things to do before a job, including reviewing plans, reading each page and noting questions, correlating plans (relating site plan to foundation plan, floor plan to roof plan, etc.) and making notes, coordinating with designers and engineers and highlighting unusual job specifications.
  • Site Visit – create a list of what to bring to the site visit, what to do with subs, what to check out in the neighborhood such as access and parking, particulars like power availability and important items to like hazards and space for access and movement of crews.
  • Subcontractor Quotes – create a list of what each subcontractor has quoted for their work with notes about what to clarify.

Contractor Accounting Software

Construction accounting software for Mac or Windows makes budgeting and estimating remodel work faster and easier by automating common steps in the process. Quickly generate accurate job estimates, track sub-contractor invoices, and keep all data and forms together in an easily accessible place and format with software.

Erica Pierce blogs about business and finance.

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By Lachezar Stamatov

As a small contractor, you’ve probably contemplated the possibility of working on public work projects. If you’re just entering the arena, you might be wondering what steps you can take to leverage your chances of getting one. Here are our tips:

Register with Uncle SAM – In order for a federal agency to find you, it is absolutely necessary that you register your business in the System for Award Management (SAM). SAM is the database the government uses to find contractors for their projects. The government bases their decisions on such criteria as years of experience, physical location and size of the company, etc.

Increase Your Visibility in Other Ways – When you register with SAM, you also have the option of registering with the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS). The DSBS helps you in a different way – you can use its search engine to find out more about other small businesses and possibly look for a partner if a project is too big for your capacity but you still want to bid on it.

Look for Opportunities Yourself – Naturally, you can’t just register in the federal government’s database and wait for the projects to come to you. There are many ways for you to proactively find them, such as through the Federal Business Opportunities website. Just search the website to find contracting opportunities for projects exceeding $25,000. A similar tool you should also check out is the Federal Procurement Data System – Next Generation. Finally, at you can see contracts awarded by the federal government and learn more about how others succeed, identify common traits between them and make changes to your business practices if necessary.

Find Partners – Searching government databases and participating in networking events are both effective strategies to increase chances of landing a contract. Beyond this, registering with the American Express Open Forum is a great way not only to find more about government contracting but also to find potential partners. One of their studies found that businesses who team up get 50 percent more contracts. Indeed, in a recent survey among contractors, respondents said that they were sole providers for only 46 percent of their federal contracts. Make sure to check out the Small Business Teaming Pilot Program, too, where you can learn more about government allocated critical resources.

Save on the Price of Your Surety Bonds – When submitting your bid, you’ll probably wonder how you can make a lower-priced offer without sacrificing quality. One way to cut your costs is to find a good deal on your contract surety bonds, a frequent requirement on many public construction projects. The best ways to lower your price include maintaining a good credit score and demonstrating strong financial statements.

Lachezar Stamatov is a recent psychology graduate with interests spanning across various fields including health, food, technology and sustainable farming. He loves blogging about construction and surety bonds, and is a regular contributor for the Lance Surety Bonds blog.

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