Is technology here to stay in construction

So technology …. That will never catch on will it! 

Well we are now in a world where robotic arms lay bricks in our houses. In some cases our houses are printed for us. Our building sites are surveyed by drones and deliveries to the sites are automatically logged and photographed to prove delivery. Technology is embedded already in construction. The ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing construction. 

In a world where connectivity is greatly improved, the use of data enables so much more in our lives and especially in construction projects. Appropriate use of data allows for AI and machine learning to become more integral to how large scale projects are managed – and potentially better at it than humans were. [BIM examples] There has already been a significant increase in the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) allowing for projects to be completed in a virtual world – allowing the optimisation of the design to be determined before that spade hits the soil.

Well I explored technology in construction in my post here: https://wordsofwilko.com/2020/08/25/a-few-thoughts-on-technology/

So why adopt a more innovative approach to construction. Improved efficiencies, optimising productivity and longer term savings in terms of time and money. A recent example in Sheffield saw a building, well, built wrong. I don’t know the details but could this have been avoided? But will people change? Some people just don’t want to. The last year has hopefully demonstrated the benefit of technology in many ways but building is a different kettle of fish. Can’t build from home can we now (or can we?). Technology can fundamentally disrupt the ways industries are structured and operate: workers are not just replaced by robots, things change so much that neither robots or people are needed at all. So just because we can, doesn’t mean we should, and certainly not without careful deliberation.

There is a positioning of reskilling but does this ultimately work? Technological advancements tend to reduce labour requirements overall and also split skilled roles into two: new tasks only requiring one degree-qualified manager and some unskilled labour, with reduced quality of work and thus less remuneration. So the redistribution of the team needs consideration. The implementation of a more digital way of working though does create new roles in the sector, attracting talent that ordinarily wouldn’t have been attracted to a very “manual” sector. A broader talent pool. And with the right working arrangements that pool could be brought from, well anywhere, with little to no need for the talent to ever go on site (though personally I feel they’d be missing out on this).

So there is a crossroads to approach carefully. The construction industry is more than simply a provider of the built environment. It employs a large number of employees – a vast number of people who are skilled in trade and therefore validated by employment. People are the biggest asset and therefore a future model for construction needs to remember that. Technological advancement can be seen as a positive but also has the potential to do harm. A careful consideration of how current employees fit into a future model is essential and may well require investment in reskilling talent for this future. 

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