Can Innovation Solve Construction Workforce Shortages?

The construction industry relies on a significant amount of manual labor and requires the workforce to have a high degree of skill. Unfortunately, the number of people entering the construction workforce has steadily decreased over the years. In addition, a considerable number of construction workers have recently retired or are nearing retirement. This has been an ongoing concern within the industry. Construction organizations are pushing to turn the tide and increase the workforce, but many young adults do not find the traditional construction industry as appealing as some other careers.

Fortunately, there have been significant innovations within the construction industry. As a result of some technological improvements, there is renewed interest in the industry from the next generation.

Here are a few key innovations within the construction industry:

  • Building Information Modeling (BIM) – BIM creates a virtual rendering of the building project prior to physically constructing it. This process can help identify issues prior to construction and assists with job cost estimating. It also allows contractors to coordinate efforts and schedules to eliminate inefficiencies. Additionally, BIM can be a value-add to the end customer as it provides information that can be used by facilities management or future renovation projects.
  • Prefabrication and modular building – There are many contractors that fabricate materials off-site prior to being delivered to the project. With the advancements in BIM, the amount of prefabrication and modular building has increased. BIM gives contractors a level of precision that allows them to build more of the project off-site in a controlled environment to improve efficiencies. Contractors have a manufacturing facility to build the modules to be used on the job. The final installation requires less manual labor to fully assemble the components which drives labor savings and reduces material waste.
  • Robotic assist and autonomous vehicles – In addition to the usage of drones to map and observe the job site, more contractors are using robots to help with modular fabrication and installation. Robots are also being used to reduce injuries by assisting workers with lifting and movement of materials. Autonomous or semi-autonomous equipment such as self-driving dozers are now being used by highway and site-work contractors. These changes have reduced the amount of labor hours needed.
  • Connected worksite / wearable technology – Some contractors use electronic units that employees and subcontractors wear on the job site to help monitor their location and movements. There are many benefits to the connected worksite such as safety and productivity monitoring. This can also be tied into BIM to allow the project managers and supervisors to keep track of the project.

With innovation, the construction industry has become more efficient and has been able to reduce the number of man hours required on jobs. Technological advancements have also created a renewed interest among the next generation of construction workers. Contractors who are slow to change face risks from competitors who are more efficient and thus more attractive to future workers. While innovation is not the complete solution to the workforce shortage, it plays a vital role in the future of construction.

Mark A. Guillaume can be reached at Email or 215.441.4600.

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