The construction industry has a well-known skills gap — not enough workers with the right skills to meet demand. In fact, according to an Associated General Contractors of America report released in January, 80% of the contractors the association surveyed said they were concerned about being able to find enough workers to keep up with their expansion plans. Another recent study conducted by Wells Fargo Securities found that access to enough qualified workers was the main concern of almost half of the contractors polled.
Given the building boom throughout much of the U.S. and the fact that many baby boomers are reaching retirement age — without enough younger workers to replace them — the wider adoption of technology has been touted as the way to make up the difference.
Tools that are credited with allowing contractors to keep up their pace include:
- Project and document management software
- Project design and delivery aids like building information modeling (BIM)
- Drones and robotics
- Vehicle and equipment automation
However, according to a new report from the Autodesk Foundation and Monitor Institute by Deloitte, the shift toward technology, especially machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation, could also widen the skills gap, particularly for trade workers without a four-year college degree.
This is because, according to the report, as tech adoption increases, the already-limited supply of workers could fall behind in the skills necessary to operate new technology. They not only are required to go through extra training but also update skills on an accelerated basis.
The Autodesk-Deloitte report says there are ways that employers and public agencies can help address this mismatch of skills and opportunities, however.
First, employers should explore more ways of delivering training that also strengthens other capabilities and areas of knowledge along with the specific skill so workers are better prepared for future opportunities. This level of training can be found in the integrative education models of secondary schools; partnerships between employers and community colleges; work-to-learn models like apprenticeships; and joint labor union and management programs.
Second, employers and workers should invest in the continuous upgrading of skills that ideally take place in a work scenario, which is an effective way for workers to learn.
But not every solution lies with workers and employers. In order for skilled workers to be successful in the age of automation and other new construction technologies, the industry should standardize credentialing, making it easier for workers to slide into new opportunities and more effectively provide information about careers in construction to prospective and current workers.
Third, the Autodesk-Deloitte report said the industry is headed toward an environment of frequent job and career changes. For workers to be able to navigate this new climate successfully, they must have access to health insurance and other portable benefits, as well as social programs — like those that help military veterans transition into construction jobs.