Unfortunately, the very industry that builds our world is missing people. Autonomous Equipment could be the way to combat this.
In June 2018, there were 263,000 construction job openings in the USA. The United States Bureau of Labor predicts the construction industry will see a 12% increase in jobs in the next seven years, meaning around 31,000 jobs that need to be filled. If construction continues to see increased investment, this number could grow much larger before we hit 2027.
The 2019 AGC/FMI Risk Survey found that 80% of construction companies report a limited supply of skilled craftworkers and 44% are short on field supervisors. As the aging and retiring population grows each year, this difficulty to fill jobs – skilled workers and supervisors especially – will become more difficult.
Some companies have tried to entice workers by offering higher salaries, better benefit packages, and on-the-job training. These perks can help to make the job openings more appealing, but this shortage of workers – skilled workers in particular – is not going away. The pressure is not alleviating as the years go by and continues to grow worse.
A few weeks ago DOZR CEO Kevin Forestell wrote a blog post in which he explored the incoming boom of project funding for infrastructure improvement in the USA. He also looked at the growth in green-energy construction projects and the upward trend of spending patterns from private companies for construction projects.
No amount of salary and benefit perks will be able to fill the jobs needed to keep up with this level of investment in the construction industry. The consequences of this imbalance is already being felt, with jobs being turned down by contractors because they simply don’t have the manpower to make it happen.
A shortage of people is a major problem facing construction. As investment in construction projects continues to grow, the demand for people will grow as well. Without people, the jobs can’t be done. It becomes a vicious cycle that makes the sweetness of a booming industry sour with the lack of labourforce.
As autonomous equipment and work vehicles start being seen in construction sites, the lack of workers could be less of a problem. Suncor is looking at introducing 150 self-driving trucks over the next six years, ultimately eliminating the need for up to 400 workers (read about it here).
A concern in many industries is that the increased use of technology and autonomous vehicles will cause unemployment rates to rise. What is unique about the construction industry is that their integration in everyday work projects would be fixing the people problem; Companies could take on jobs that they otherwise couldn’t because of a lack of laborers. Using autonomous equipment and taking advantage of construction technology will help to maximize the work that companies can produce. This will drive up their efficiency by eliminating the wasted effort of searching for workers that aren’t there.
Ironically, embracing construction tech to deal with the lack of labourers could ultimately help secure the next generation of industry workers.
Millennials (born 1980 – mid 1990’s) and Generation Z (born mid 1990’s – 2000’s) want to feel connected to the technology of the time. They have grown up with it, use it every day and it basically becomes a part of who they are. By making technology a celebrated part of the construction industry, the appeal of construction work to these generations could grow.
There has already been an increasing trend of embracing technology in the construction industry; Virtual reality training for equipment operators and using drones and tablets to monitor worksites are just a few examples. The industry is on it’s way, but with predicted growth in projects, it may need to happen a little faster. With the next generation of workers having grown up in the tech world, they could also be key to expediting tech integration.
The demand for people and need of integrating technology is creating a career sweet spot for Millennials and Gen Z: a high probability of getting a job and using new tech in a booming industry. For those willing to work hard, apply themselves, and learn new skills the opportunity for growth is in the construction industry.
The current level economy is not going anywhere any time soon, thanks to the product efficiency created by the sharing economy. The construction industry is in a great position for continued growth: current private projects are on the upswing and the future of public projects is looking very bright.
By embracing construction technology and making efficiency a priority, the construction industry can welcome the upcoming boom of projects while simultaneously charming the next generation of workers. It is a task that involves breaking gender stereotypes, educating young adults about the value of trades and skills education, and promoting the changes coming within the industry.
There are great programs to expose young adults to the different trades involved in construction.
Mentoring a Girl in Construction – MAGIC – camp is a program that invites young women, aged 14 – 18, to take place in a week-long exposure to the construction industry. From machine operating to welding, participants are exposed to a variety of trades and are encouraged to try them all within a safe environment. Skills Ontario also holds summer camps that are open to young adults looking to explore their interest in trades.
Within the school system, there is greater understanding about the need to discuss trades as a career option. Vocational schools in the US and the Youth Apprenticeship Programs in Canada help to bring the option of a career in trades to the classroom. Both Canada and the US have a selection of educational grants specifically for trades and apprenticeships.
When reaching young adults who are actively exploring job opportunities, job fairs offer an opportunity to highlight the tech changes taking place in construction. If possible, bringing tech like VR training to job fairs can spark conversations about tech in construction that maybe wouldn’t happen organically. In fact, construction companies attending general job fairs and not just trade-specific fairs could contribute to the exposure needed to keep construction in mind for young people thinking about their career options. The best way to get people to know about opportunities at your company and in the industry is to tell them.
This lack of people is a problem that did not occur overnight and it certainly won’t be fixed in a day. Companies within the industry as well as education programs, schools, teachers, parents, and workers all can take it upon themselves to have open and honest conversations about careers in construction. They can do their part to share the reality of the industry with the next generation. Maybe then we will finally see an influx of skilled construction workers the world needs.