The digitalisation of construction could attract fresh talent to an industry that is currently experiencing a major skills shortage.
Throughout the past year of pandemic lockdowns, two industries have stood out as unsuited to the push for working from home — hospitality and construction.
While there still needs to be someone on hand to steam our lattes and smash our avocado, developments in technology mean many jobs within the construction industry can now be done remotely.
Rob Bryant from construction software company InEight believes a greater recognition of this opportunity could dramatically reshape the construction industry, helping fill worker shortages and make building more sustainable.
“Last year the construction industry, like any other, has gone through those challenges of needing to work remotely or at least be socially distanced,” Bryant told The Fifth Estate.
“The habit of having everyone together in the site office is proving to be no longer necessary, people can effectively work remotely and collaborate remotely on everything from schedules to construction work.”
Currently available software enables those who are on-site to accurately record progress, track the delivery and use of materials and conduct necessary inspections, while uploading the information to a central point for review.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed there were around 27,000 job vacancies in the construction industry during last February’s reporting period, up from 17,000 the year before.
Bryant says that shifting the reputation of construction from boots in the mud, to hi-tech and multi-disciplined could attract a more diverse array of people to the industry and help fill the labour gap.
“There’s a perception that the construction industry is slow on the adoption of technology and that it is an environment that requires a hard hat and steel-toe caps as part of everyone’s role,” Bryant says.
With the adoption of technology and influx of data, many roles are changing in construction, and new roles are being created that require different skills such as analysing, forecasting and scheduling.
“It’s less about the brute force of any role or the inherent knowledge of people that have been in it for decades. While all of that’s valuable, the real value is in capturing those insights and being able to apply them,” Bryant says.
Attracting women to the industry
Shaking off old perceptions creates oppurtunities to bring more women into the industry, which is currently one of the most male-dominated.
National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) board of directors Fiona Doherty says she agrees that the reputation of construction is outdated and embracing technology could attract more women.
Having worked herself as quantity surveyor for over 30 years, Doherty notes that these jobs were doable by anyone in the past, but that digitisation will help remove time constraints on those with other responsibilities such as caregiving.
“To have that opportunity to work around different work schedules by using technology definitely I would hope to see more women attracted into the industry,” Doherty says.
Doherty is one of those already benefiting from the shift, working one day a week from her home in the Snowy Mountains.
“Because of the technology that we’re using, as long as i’ve got a good internet connection then you can certainly access all the systems that we use in our business remotely,” Ms Doherty says.
Digitalisation and sustainability are linked
As well as revolutionising the construction industry for those within it, digitisation also promises more sustainable outcomes for the planet.
Effective scheduling and material management can ensure effective deployment and cut waste, while digital design and prefabrication offers an opportunity to perfect elements before they reach the construction site, avoiding clashes and other complications.
“There’s an opportunity to test the construction before it moves into a physical environment and ensure there’s efficiencies there,” Bryant explains.
“A number of pilot projects have seen prefabrication components delivered to site which has environmental and social benefits in terms of minimising the impact in an urban environment.
“There are gains to be had by employing technology from an environmental point of view in the industry most certainly.”
Doherty adds that having more women likely wouldn’t hurt the prospect of progressing sustainable practices in construction either.
“Having a more diverse workforce creates a more diverse conversation about the way things can change and I think that will add to sustainability outcomes as well,” she says.