Editor's note: This piece was written for S.R. Clarke & Associates, a construction industry executive search firm, by Lauren Brookes, a writer based in Colorado. The content she writes focuses on career and workforce issues in the construction industry.
While technological advancement is rapidly expanding in the construction world, many companies are still conducting business in a similar way they did decades ago. In a 2017 global survey conducted by KPMG, findings showed that even though 72% of the engineering and construction executives surveyed stated that technological innovation played a role in their vision, less than half had a clear strategy in place to integrate those advancements.
Additionally, only 5% of respondents considered themselves on the forefront of embracing these advancements, while the majority stated that they were industry followers instead of leaders.
What these numbers showcase is that construction executives and leaders are aware of the value and necessity of integrating technology with their business models, but most haven’t taken actionable steps to make doing so a reality. As illustrated, only a minority of firms seem eager to take the reins and lead the industry into an era of digital technology and information.
Resistance to change is human nature, and treading into unknown waters is always a bit of a gamble. That being said, the construction industry has far more to win than it has to lose by adapting to the modern times.
If you took the survey mentioned above, would you respond by saying your firm is leading the overdue transformation of the industry or that it's part of the majority and operating as an industry follower? If you answered the latter, read on below, and take note of some of the main reasons why embracing technology as soon as possible is in your company's best interest.
Reduce onsite accidents
Construction is continually noted as one of the most dangerous professions, so naturally, the need for improved onsite safety for workers is an ongoing conversation. Because the industry revolves around intense physical labor, heavy equipment and materials and unpredictable weather conditions, it’s important to mitigate risk wherever possible.
The good news is that technology is helping the industry become much less dangerous.
Drones are becoming an increasingly popular tool in the construction industry, and when used efficiently, they can complete some tasks that are dangerous to workers. For example, drones are able to survey and record data of locations that could be hazardous for workers to scout, such as unexplored locations or areas that are difficult to reach or navigate. They allow project supervisors to oversee projects in real time, allowing for stronger oversight and more efficient surveillance.
Another noteworthy breakthrough capable of improving safety on the construction site is wearables, small smart devices that attach to either the worker or in protective gear, such as helmets, vests, boots and glasses. These devices can help track biometrics, environmental factors and physical locations (GPS).
What this means is that a device can track a worker’s vitals and alert him if he is in physical danger. If there is an environmental hazard around the jobsite, the worker will be alerted, and if the worker suffers a fall or injury, a supervisor can track his location easily and get him care quickly.
Some wearables even offer the person wearing them the ability to hit an emergency alert button if the he needs help. This will help prevent workplace injuries as well as streamline potential crisis management.
It’s estimated that 250 million wearables will be used this year, and that number is predicted to more than double by 2021. Needless to say, the outlook of construction-site safety is looking positive, and getting on board with new technological developments can help the industry be safer and thus, more attractive, to future workers.
Experience better organized projects
Project management software is changing the way construction companies oversee their teams and tasks, keep track of budgeting and scheduling, and report project updates to clients. It’s often the most realistic (i.e. affordable) starting point for construction executives who are looking to dip their toes in the digital age.
Project management information systems (PMIS) are designed to integrate all aspects of a project into one easily manageable location. This can make a construction project manager's job immensely easier, yet, according to the KPMG survey, only 8% of the respondents stated they were utilizing a real-time PMIS capable of project dashboard reporting.
While implementing a PMIS may not be financially feasible for smaller construction companies, only 31% of executives even had integrated project systems in place. What this means is that even though many construction companies are utilizing project management software, most are using separate systems for different areas of project management, resulting in a fragmented, manual effort instead of an automated process.
By adopting project management software that can handle all tasks in one place, or at least separate software programs that can integrate with each other or in the cloud, project managers will be much more efficient. They’ll be able to more accurately estimate and keep track of project costs and securely collect data, and more easily evaluate the project progress, remotely supervise workers, and enhance transparent project collaboration and communication between workers and clients.
Resonate with millennials
The growing skills gap between baby boomers and millennials is a ubiquitous discussion point in the construction industry. Few millennials are entering construction; only 7.3% of construction workers were between the ages of 20 and 24 in 2015, which was down from 10.7% in 2005. The disinterest from the younger generation is occurring at a time when many baby boomers are heading toward retirement, leaving many executives feeling concerned about who will keep the industry going and take over senior level roles.
While there are various ways to attract millennials to construction careers, embracing technology is an important place to start. In order to lure in this demographic that has grown up with and become dependent on technology, it’s important that your business isn't functioning in a different era.
Millennials are used to being able to quickly access information and documents, and they are accustomed to having instant feedback and communication. In a survey commissioned by Microsoft, 93% of millennials surveyed stated that having the most modern technology played a role when choosing employers.
It’s not realistic to think that younger workers would choose a career where feedback is delayed and most processes are conducted manually, which is why adopting innovative technology will make the industry more attractive to those who will be responsible for keeping it progressing.
Though the number of construction executives who are deploying a clear roadmap toward technology integration isn’t in the majority yet, that is certain to change. Clients and customers naturally gravitate to providers who demonstrate that they are working with technology instead of resisting it, especially when those changes offer more convenience.
Transparent client reporting is an attractive feature, and it’s a safe bet that it will grow to be the norm in project reporting. While still expensive to integrate upfront, 3-D printing has the potential to save construction companies and clients money on labor and materials cost in the long run, which is a major selling point.
3-D printing will also allow small scales of designs to be printed before the real versions are constructed. This will let construction companies identify and rectify errors before putting time into full-scale development, pushing the “measure twice, cut once” philosophy. On a similar note, these small replicas will allow clients to communicate anything they’re not happy with before the building is constructed, solidifying client expectations in a frugal manner.
Additionally, the increasing concern about climate change is causing sustainability to become more important to consumers. Technology can help reduce the amount of materials used and wasted as well as help create more energy-efficient buildings, turning construction into a more eco-friendly industry.
Incorporating technology trends, or at least taking the steps to construct a clear blueprint of how to do so in the future, will help your business stay ahead of the curve instead of falling behind your competition.
Embracing technology will clearly benefit your construction company now and in the future. While immediately incorporating the most cutting-edge breakthroughs may not be realistic for financial or logistical reasons, you can always start somewhere. Taking small steps now will help you better strategize bigger changes later on.
The future is in technology, and doing everything in your means to push the industry forward, will help your business goals and the construction industry as a whole.