Talent Magnets

HOLLINGSWORTHChanging the image of construction begins with technology innovation.   

By Chad Hollingsworth

Technological change is increasing exponentially, and along with it, the very way we do business.  With the rapid adoption of digital networks and the widespread use of connected devices, consumers have come to expect real-time, data-driven information at their fingertips. While most industries have embraced – and are able to deliver on – this digital transformation, construction remains among the least digitized industries in the United States, second only to agriculture and hunting. 

The Changing Workforce

This lack of technology is compounded by the challenges of a shrinking skilled workforce. The face of construction has changed drastically over the last decade. After the recession hit in 2008, more than two million skilled workers, unable to find work, dropped out of the industry and have never returned. Today, baby boomers are retiring across the board at a rate of 10,000 workers per day, which is particularly significant in construction where the average age of workers exceeds the average of the overall workforce. 

The other side of the coin is that fewer people are entering the field. Many millennials, who have been steered toward college degrees and are concerned about job security, tend to dismiss construction as a viable career option. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), a remarkably low 3 percent of respondents expressed interest in working in the construction trades. Since millennials will comprise 43 percent of the workforce in 2018 – up from just 6 percent in 2008 – it is not surprising that nearly three-quarters of construction firms anticipate having difficulty finding skilled labor now and into the foreseeable future. 

Redefining the Public Image of Construction 

As U.S. construction spending hits pre-recession levels and workforce demographics continue to change, the industry is grappling with the best way to find, train and retain the right people to meet the construction backlog. It cannot afford to carry on conducting “business as usual,” a thought that was echoed by 77 percent of World Economic Forum survey respondents who believe the industry is not doing enough to attract and retain talent. 

One key way to combat this problem is to create a culture of innovation. An organization’s culture can be a talent magnet, and the difference between long-term organizational — and industry — success or failure. Hindered by organizational inertia — “We’ve always done it this way so why change?” — some construction companies have a conservative, fear-of-failure mindset. 

To recruit millennials, construction firms should implement a mindset that challenges the status quo and embraces innovation. By encouraging employees to research and champion emerging products and adopt Internet of Things (IoT) technology, firms can attract younger workers who equate a more digital workplace with opportunities for career development and advancement. 

Bridging the Gap Through Tech

The lack of skilled workers is also taking its toll on profitability. According to a Construction Industry Training Board report, more than half of employers struggling to fill vacancies are losing business or turning down opportunities to bid. The worker shortage is particularly challenging as the workload continues to grow; with work piling up and project margins thin, today’s contractors don’t have the people, time or financial resources to spare. 

One of the solutions is to find ways to use current resources more productively. Construction firms can’t afford to waste valuable time conducting manual headcounts and visual safety checks; tracking down people, information, tools or equipment; or coordinating various tasks among subcontractors and trades. In addition, as owners and developers demand less downtime and more accountability, general contractors need to shift from a reactive mindset to a proactive one, providing ongoing project updates and access to historical information so they can better plan future site needs. 

The good news is that by embracing innovation and digitization, companies can not only improve productivity and meet the talent challenge, but can also better prepare for the future. 

Doing More with Less

The right construction technology can centralize information and communication, improve safety and reduce the amount of time spent on non-value-added tasks. While project management software has helped create a single stream of information, drones have helped survey and document sites, and cost-coding apps have helped cut down on manual data entry, none of these solutions work together seamlessly right now to connect the jobsite.

Cutting-edge, IoT-enabled sensor technology has the potential to automatically – and accurately — tell various project stakeholders where key resources (workers, equipment, materials, tools) are located on a site and how they’re interacting with each other. This technology is the foundation of a digitally connected construction site, providing automatic, actionable data that workers, contractors and owners can leverage to build smarter. 

Wearable devices, for example, convert worker activity into actionable insights that prevent bottlenecks and drive safety, and their adoption is on the rise. Such solutions can identify the location of workers on site, automatically track their hours and collect important safety information for improved risk management. 

These sensor technologies, along with building information modeling (BIM), AR/VR, smart tools and telematics-equipped machinery, will make up the ConstrucTech ecosystem that automates manual processes and recruits and empowers key industry stakeholders. 

As the gap between digital laggards and early adopters across industries widens, and technologies continue to emerge at an exponential rate, construction companies will be faced with a choice: adopt digitization or risk falling further and further behind. 

With the current spotlight on our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and changing workforce, there is no time like the present for construction firms to demonstrate how they can continually adapt, adopt and redefine themselves to meet challenges. 

The industry cannot afford to miss this opportunity to embrace product and process advancements, improve efficiency and secure its significance for the years ahead – and, at the same time, reap the financial benefits that come along with all that.

Chad Hollingsworth co-founded Triax Technologies, a leading provider of technology for construction site connectivity, to bring innovative solutions to challenging environments. Through its flagship spot-r wearable technology, Triax provides real-time visibility into the worksite, resulting in faster response to injuries, improved safety performance and increased productivity. Hollingsworth can be reached by email at chad@triaxtec.com.

 

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