Addressing worker shortages through innovation
The labor shortage in the construction industry has climbed to unsustainable levels. Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated Contractors of America, called the issue “significant and widespread,” and the statistics support his point. Around 65 percent of small contractors have difficulty finding skilled workers.
Another survey of construction professionals found that 80 percent struggled to fill hourly craft positions. Nearly half of the firms in the study claimed they were taking longer to complete projects, with the added pressure of higher bid prices. They’ve also had to increase pay, benefits and training in an attempt to attract workers.
As the labor gap continues to grow, the construction industry has reached an impasse. Fewer people are applying for construction positions, and the ones who do lack the necessary experience. With an aging workforce, declining interest and high operating expenses, construction executives have started to get creative.
A growing number of construction professionals are turning to digital technologies as a possible solution. Though the industry hasn’t always shown enthusiasm in adopting these advances, that traditional mindset is beginning to change. The potential of digital technology is impossible — and imprudent — to ignore.
How have construction professionals employed these technologies to manage the labor shortage? How can today’s companies take advantage of modern systems and software? Here are some of the challenges of the labor gap and ways to overcome them.
1. Increased Connectivity between a Jobsite and Back Office
The application of digital technologies at a jobsite can decrease inefficiencies between a jobsite and back office. An increase in connectivity allows for streamlined communication, and as construction professionals know, communication is key to productivity.
New technology also enables a project manager to collect and analyze information with far less trouble. As a construction executive uses technology to address issues related to information collection and communication, they’ll see a marked improvement in the performance of their existing workforce.
2. Greater Reliance on Automated Technologies for Projects
As automated technology continues to advance, new developments show significant promise for the construction industry. Though it’s more common to associate automation with self-driving cars for private use, Caterpillar has developed driverless trucks for mining operations. What does this mean for the industry?
Construction companies may soon start to invest in self-driving vehicles for projects throughout the United States. In addition to these changes, prospects for diesel mechanics will also improve with expected job growth of 12 percent from 2014 to 2024. New technologies also bring fresh opportunities for workers.
3. New Technology to Supplement the Existing Workforce
As construction executives confront the labor shortage in their industry, they’ve found innovative ways to supplement their workforce. Among these solutions, they’ve invested in laser and GPS-guided road graders to reduce the number of workers they need for road projects. Drones have also seen greater adoption.
The inclusion of drones in construction projects is no longer such a novel concept. Companies now rely on them for remote inspections and the documentation of project conditions. This small adjustment has alleviated some of the pressure of the labor gap, assisting workers in their responsibilities.
4. Improved Coordination With Computer Modeling Software
As the adage goes, “work smarter, not harder.” Construction professionals have applied this mindset with computer modeling software. When using these programs, project supervisors can coordinate with architects and avoid setbacks, increasing their efficiency and reducing their need for extra workers.
As context, one of the primary concerns over the labor shortage is the potential for missed deadlines. A company can ensure it meets the expectations of clients when it pre-empts problems with digital technology. It allows them to order material with far more accuracy, for example.
5. Demonstration of Tech Literacy for Potential Applicants
Beyond the obvious value of new technology, it has the secondary benefit of attracting a younger generation of workers. When a construction company invests in modern solutions such as virtual reality, it demonstrates tech literacy and a progressive attitude. This is appealing to recent graduates who want a chance to use their education.
The technology itself has benefits, of course, but it also sets a construction company apart from its competitors in the eyes of a potential applicant. Between a tech-forward company and a more traditional firm, a millennial is far likelier to choose the former. They’re often eager to exercise their skillset.
Looking Toward the Future
A construction company stuck in the past may not have a future. Industry professionals benefit from a review of their current practices as they consider ways they might adapt. The labor shortage in the US presents a serious problem, but it also brings opportunity for growth and exploration.
With that in mind, professionals should assess their strategies and give thought to the value of digital technologies. With proper application, a construction company can continue to build on its past success and secure its future.
Written by: Holly Welles, BOSS Contributor
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.