How Technology Bridges the Construction Trade and Talent Gap

By Doron Klein | Originally posted on 

The construction industry is experiencing an ongoing hiring drought, and the challenge of hiring has led to a loss of business for many general contractors. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index indicated that 92 percent of contractors reported difficulty finding construction workers. Of those, 42 percent said that this has caused them to turn down work.

According to the Associated Builders and Contractors, the second half of 2022 will expand the construction hiring issue due to inflation, federal spending, an aging workforce, and persistent shortages. As we combat these obstacles, it becomes necessary to prioritize recruitment, retention, employee training, and workplace safety. Investing in technology solutions is key to the construction industry’s success.

Technology Positively Impacts Worker Retention

Construction is known to be a physical profession, which creates real workforce problems as individuals age out of the work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a construction worker is about 42 years old, and 36 percent are between the ages of 45 and 64. Advanced technology solutions help to elongate the careers of construction workers and retain this crucial segment of aging talent.

The stress of making decisions on the fly that impact quality, schedule, and cost is alleviated when technology provides certainty via real-time data. For example, before pouring the concrete, digitally verifying installation progress, quality, and dimensional layouts would enable the identification of errors and omissions in the slab relative to the plans and shop drawings. Subcontractors can then use that data to make relevant corrections before concrete is poured and utilize it as a source of truth for the future. This precision eliminates decisions based on second-guessing inherent in today’s manual quality control processes, leading to increased productivity and schedule acceleration.

Technology that increases construction accuracy and reduces mistakes will unlock the potential for a higher degree of communication, certainty, schedule, and cost. Accurate, real-time data equips teams to identify errors, gain heightened accountability, and collaborate better because the insights show where attention is needed now, rather than having to tell a team member that mistakes were made after the fact. This eliminates finger-pointing when an error is identified and creates a more positive environment that boosts morale and employee retention.

The Key to Unlocking the Future Workforce’s Potential

The early adoption of technology, such as plan verification software that provides real-time actionable insights on a project, will improve the construction work environment and potentially attract more professionals in the near future. A new superintendent typically needs up to six years of field management work to become fully trained in how to forecast errors. With technology-enabled data, contractors can cut that process down to as little as two years. The checks and balances provided by data-informed reports identify a variety of issues and alert field mistakes as they happen, equipping the superintendent to know what to look for and getting them up to speed in the field quicker.

Trade schools were once seen as a “fallback” option in the 1980s and ‘90s but are now more attractive for those who graduated high school mid-pandemic. According to ECMC Group, a teen’s likelihood of pursuing a four-year degree decreased 23 percentage points between May 2020 and September 2021, down to 48 percent from 71 percent. Given the tools to succeed, construction can become a more attractive job option for recent graduates.

When we equip trades with cutting-edge tools, the construction industry becomes a more attractive career path, especially for younger individuals who have an easier time adopting new technology. While we train the future workforce to use data effectively on the jobsite, we’re teaching them how to adapt to new technologies and better prepare them for their future.

Accurate data-based technology allows management to accelerate lessons learned for employees before it’s too late, showing them solutions rather than just problems. If a worker is repeatedly improperly spacing panels or installing crooked components, real-time documentation allows the project manager to identify where retraining is needed. Documenting errors along the way equips the team to improve work processes and instruct workers on how to succeed moving forward when reporting mistakes.

Leveraging Technology to Improve Worker Safety

Over 40 percent of American workers report experiencing increased mental distress due to the pandemic, and over 85 percent say that work impacts their mental health, according to the National Safety Council. Prolonged workplace distress causes fatigue and impacts worker safety. The risk this presents extends to construction trades. According to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), decreased alertness from worker fatigue has factored into industrial disasters, prime examples being the 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion, the 2009 Colgan Air Crash, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

The most significant contributor to construction workplace safety incidents is unplanned work, with an estimated 70 percent of safety incidents happening during rework. When workers aren’t in a planned workflow, like during the rework process, they are contending with heightened risk and stress. The uncertainty leaves them more vulnerable to making mistakes that can cause financial losses within the project or, even worse: increase the likelihood of injury. With the proper tools and actionable data insights that catch problems before they happen, general contractors avoid rework and improve the well-being of trades.

Technology Improves Productivity and Accuracy

Contractors orchestrate a project according to a schedule, and when a schedule slides, it affects costs and penalties and limits their teams from moving on to the next project. By leveraging technology and data, industry professionals will streamline the construction process by speeding up tasks, ensuring better quality, and protecting budgets.

For example, façade installation is complicated to inspect and ensure quality control. Any unseeded gasket and missing coupling bar will cause structural issues and warranty concerns if unattended. Digital verification platforms enable confirmation of every square inch of the exterior without superintendents having to do it from the ground level and balconies manually. By shifting the weight of this obstacle to data-informed technology, general contractors can reduce risk and eliminate errors, saving time and resources through greater efficiency. This process allows general contractors to more precisely understand how to budget for contingency time, which should be reserved for unavoidable circumstances like weather delays. Through this heightened efficiency, industry leaders maximize the productive time of workers, freeing them from endless hours of manually checking every detail and allowing them to focus on more significant parts of the work.

Data-driven processes better equip construction decision-makers to combat the prevalent labor shortage through tools that improve worker retention, training, and worksite safety. Whether improving workplace morale by providing certainty and eliminating errors or streamlining the construction process by freeing up the team to complete more meaningful tasks, technology is the key to bridging the construction trade and talent gap and accelerating the industry forward.