On average, for every 100 men who work at a construction site, you’ll find three women (or, according to this study, just one). With an aging workforce and fewer younger workers taking retirees’ places, 69 percent of contractors struggle to fill hourly craft positions. And around a third of contractors have a hard time hiring high-skilled salaried employees for field sites and administrative work.
Keeping these statistics in mind, it’s safe to say that the construction industry has traditionally not had an easy time recruiting and retaining workers that are women, young people, and white-collar professionals. But, new technologies that are proliferating in the construction and engineering industries have the power to change that.
Between 2013 and early 2018, construction technology firms pulled in more than $18 billion in investment funding. The technologies in question run the gamut from virtual reality to robotics to Internet-enabled equipment. Advances in these areas make a disproportionately large difference to women, young people, and white-collar workers for a number of reasons.
Companies looking to target these populations more effectively should pay attention to these shifts, and prioritize technology in their operational and hiring plans.
Tech encourages women’s participation
This will come as little surprise to anyone with a passing familiarity with the industry’s culture. Women tend to feel intimidated by or unwelcome in the male-dominated field, and they often assume that construction jobs require physical strength.
Technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can show potential female employees that many jobs on worksites — such as heavy equipment operation — rely more on skill than on brute force. Nonprofit organizations aiming to get more women involved in construction, and companies eager to hire, now provide students with simulators that introduce them to the mechanics of various construction jobs, such as operating a crane or welding steel beams.
New technology also opens up more jobs that were previously typically reserved for certain types of workers, such as men or younger workers. With robots available for heavy lifting, jobs that used to be physically demanding are now tasks focused on the precision operation of machines.
For example, robotic arms can combine the physical dexterity of the human body with the mechanical force of a robot, amplifying a human’s actions so that the strength of the operator is immaterial. 3-D printing technology is transforming how building materials are manufactured for construction projects, reducing the need for physical labor.
Younger workers want tech-savvy workplaces
The U.S. construction industry faces an aging workforce and struggles to attract young talent — its share of workers 24 years and younger declined 30% between 2005 and 2016. In general, fewer young people around the country are training for a career in trades, which has led to a talent pool with relatively little interest in the types of physically rigorous jobs common in the construction industry.
The industry’s adoption of high-tech tools can be a selling point. Construction-technology firms are designing software that uses the tools and functions commonly seen in video game systems. Examples include:
- Revizto’s use of gaming technology to convert Building Information Modeling (BIM) into 3D environments
- Buildfore’s CtrlWiz app that allows users to manipulate a BIM model using an Xbox controller
- DIRTT’s ICE 3D app that creates interactive interiors with inspiration from the classic 1990s video game DOOM
Along with wanting workplaces that tap into their digital inclinations, young people are also looking for opportunities that provide training on emerging technologies that may enhance their career prospects and future employability. In a recent survey of 202 U.S. contractors, conducted by USG corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 32% said advanced technology is key to attracting workers under 30 years old.
Construction companies that are pushing the envelope with new technologies, incorporating such advancements as robotics and machine learning, will have a far easier time recruiting and retaining younger talent.
White-collar talent wants high-tech opportunity
The same principle applies to highly educated white-collar workers, whom the field has historically had a hard time attracting. Some of them may have been turned off by the field’s reputation for being slow to adopt new technologies. Like younger workers, they want to feel that working in construction can offer advancement and high-tech learning opportunities similar to what they might find in other innovative and dynamic fields they pursue.
The construction industry’s shift toward embracing new technologies has really only just begun, which means there’s a surfeit of opportunity for high-level workers to lead construction’s transition into the 21st century.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a good example of the potential disruption presented by these changes. The rise of AI will have major implications for all realms of work, and construction is no exception with potential to revolutionize processes, or to open up the field to nontraditional contributors.
For example, AI-powered simulations can change how recruiting and training are done, and applying AI to tracking business metrics will increase efficiencies and bring the industry in line with modern business operations standards. As a McKinsey and Company report on construction innovation states, while AI isn’t a major force yet, “the potential impact is so large that the industry can no longer afford to ignore it.”
White-collar workers could see opportunities in an industry going through such radical transformation as attractive career-building opportunities. And better yet, AI is only one of the areas in which profound changes are beginning to take off within construction management.
An array of innovation
A majority of U.S. contractors say that the top myths about construction are that it’s a “dirty job” and that it only requires strength, not skill. But the abundance of technological advancements in the field make clear that these misconceptions are exactly that.
Innovations in real-time monitoring and control, machine learning, manpower optimization, robotics and automation, and performance dashboards, all attract new talent to the field of construction. Emerging technologies such as design simulation and drone-enabled yard inspection are also primed to start influencing the industry over the next few years.
Companies interested in recruiting and retaining a more varied workforce should invest in their own businesses–especially in their own technological capabilities. With so many areas set to change and develop within the industry, the reputation of the field as a blue-collar male bastion reliant on muscle and grit is likely to shift. And new employees will find a broad range of job types and functions to interest them and provide the opportunity to learn new skills.