In the first of a new series of exclusive Viewpoint client Q&A sessions, Josh Snow, project engineer with Garney Construction, gives his take on the construction labor challenges facing our industry. Snow points to technology and a reinvigorated focus on appealing to younger workers as keys to the future.
Viewpoint: The lack of skilled labor is still one of the biggest challenges in the construction industry and recent trends have shown that younger generations are less interested in construction jobs. How serious of an impact do you see this having in both the short- and long-term for your company and the industry as a whole?
Snow: This has a huge implication both on short and long-term planning. Long term planning includes more utilization of technology to reduce workforce needs, while short term might be higher people at a higher figure than what is ideal just to have enough people to finish a project. The short term is very much an employee-driven market which is hard on businesses to compete. It’s very hard to pinpoint where the long-term strategies need to head to combat this but having an internal training and retention program is a must. If the trend of unemployment keeps up with the economy, the hardest issue won’t be finding work, it will be retaining current employees.
Viewpoint: What are some steps the construction industry can take to attract more skilled workers and/or how is your company currently addressing the skilled labor shortage?
Snow: Rethink what the younger generations are wanting to get into, then creating jobs in the industry that encapsulate that. One great example is integrating new and emerging technology with the day to day operations of a construction company. Since programming and AR/VR/MR are becoming widely popular in gaming, leveraging that technology and creating training and opportunities around it could get an entirely unique opportunity for someone not necessarily thinking they can integrate into the industry. Construction has a very negative stigma about it, and the only way to change that old way of thinking is to change how we do things in such a way that construction is leading innovation with regard to technology and not merely just chasing after it to be caught up.
Viewpoint: How do you see technology changing how work is done on the jobsite and in the back office? Are software programs, automation, etc. helping alleviate some of the labor and process concerns?
Snow: Yes — automated large-scale equipment with GPS locators so you can automate an excavator with the ability to calculate CY added/removed, depth of excavation to dig to per spec/drawings and more. I think the most important piece is risk management and safety, so having distance sensors as well as built-in OSHA requirements could make this technology change the industry. Drone operators and a full-scale program just beyond video and photos is where this technology, I believe, will be instrumental in changing how we think, and how we communicate from field to office. I think the next step in this process is augmenting surveying with drone mapping and photo-imagery. This when its fully vetted, can save countless man hours and provide real-time data for crew members in the field to make informed decisions on. Programmers for AI and AR/VR/MR, and business analysts. We need to move beyond the idea that we can do most of our projects the same way and get the same results. One way of leveraging new tech is in the realm of AR with programming. Still relatively in its infancy with only a few programs out there, a way the office can disrupt the QA/QC group is through overlaying AR onto locations with headsets and programable inserts. Not only being able to cast live to the office for support but being able to see things to scale as they are with filters that can show you progress at any time is just one of the many ways technology is going to change our day to day usage of it immensely.
Viewpoint: What ideas do you have to get younger generations of workers more enthused about the construction industry?
Snow: There is no magic equation to change how younger generations think of the trades. I’ve been to high schools and the hardest to convince is the counselors and parents who believe that to be successful, there is only one route. They are amazed at the opportunities once we get to talking within the industry, but few take the time to build curriculum around their own knowledge and how they can better serve their students. Outside of educating the parents and counselors, one idea I have had for a long time is that we can’t just expect new generations to just show up wanting to get into the industry anymore. With unemployment at an all-time low, the burden of sourcing new workers falls on firms, and that paradigm shift is hard for some older generations to grasp on to. I believe the change needs to be integrating in the things that younger generations find interesting and finding out how we can utilize that interest into the industry. A great example is going to high schools and teaching students how to leverage drone technology. They have already been more immersed than most in this type of tech, but it’s technology like this that they are passionate about doing even as a career. Taking that passion and integrating it into your BIM department, you could learn more from those passionate younger workers than you could from consultants coming in to tell you what you already know.
Stay tuned for more client takes on the labor challenges facing the construction industry, as well as a host of other topics in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, we want to hear YOUR views on this topic, so please tell us your ideas of how to solve the skilled labor shortage in the comment section below.
Also, check out some of our construction labor topics, including these podcasts on the importance of succession planning and the role of women in construction, and this whitepaper on leveraging technology to turn service technicians in the field into their own managers. And, be sure to visit viewpoint.com to see how leading-edge software and technology could help your construction organization grow and realize greater profit.