There is a lot of talk about the future of construction and where the industry is headed. BuildForce Canada predicts the industry will see an influx of 222,600 workers under 30 over the next decade, but that will only fill a portion of the positions required, leaving a gap of more than 80,000 unfilled jobs in the construction sector. According to the Canadian Construction Association, Canada is also due to lose nearly a quarter-million construction workers in the next decade due to retirement alone.
Even in times of uncertainty, demands on the construction industry continue to grow. Though technology plays a crucial role in that development, the industry will always require people. As machines become more intelligent and projects become more complex, the industry will need to ensure it has the necessary workforce in place to meet demand.
This is why the industry needs to rethink how they attract and retain workers and what they can do to encourage millennials to pursue careers in construction.
Using technology to attract a wider pool of talent
With the existing labour shortage, and so many set to leave the industry in the coming years, contractors face extreme pressure to ramp up hiring and encourage the next generation to pursue careers in construction. Technology is providing an opportunity to fill that gap, and companies embracing this new way of doing business are seeing the benefits – not just saving time and money but in attracting a new workforce.
Companies thinking about new ways to attract that potential workforce are already revising their training, apprenticeship and recruitment initiatives, to align with new technologies and changes in the industry. Modifying recruitment strategies include turning to tools like social media and influencers to connect with millennials, and revising job postings to focus on technology and the new skills required for careers in the industry.
Industry evolving through technology
Technology is fast becoming an indispensable part of each and every function in construction – from keeping track of maintenance schedules, records, inventory and parts to the operation and management of equipment. Earthworks, once done manually, can now be done semi-autonomously with extreme accuracy; site surveying took days when done manually and can now be completed in hours or just minutes using drones to fly the site; and GPS technology gives operators instant access to a detailed and accurate view of the terrain. Plus, increasingly, government tenders, large contractors and large projects are demanding the use of certain technologies as a requirement to win jobs, which means contractors not using the technology are no longer able to compete.
There is a growing awareness that those same technology tools that are helping companies keep costs down, operate more effectively and gain an advantage over the competition, can also help make the industry more attractive to the younger generation.
Advancements in equipment can play a key role
Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) machine control allows inexperienced operators to effectively operate equipment with a minimum level of instruction. It can also facilitate two-way teaching. Less experienced operators can teach more experienced operators how to use the technology to be more efficient, allowing the more experienced operators time to train new operators on the nuances of general machine operation.
When construction companies invest in leading-edge equipment, it doesn’t just provide improved cost savings and greater efficiency, the machines themselves are much easier to maneuver and don’t require the same physical endurance to operate. On-top of that, technologies such as telematics and remote monitoring help prohibit bad habits like speeding, excessive idling and overloading, which leads to increased safety on the jobsite, reduced wear and tear and increased machine efficiencies.
Improvements in business management tools for those overseeing the jobsite now allow contractors to manage their fleets remotely and utilize the technology to gain efficiencies on the operations side. Technology has also significantly changed management roles, lending additional opportunities for the next generation to apply their skills and follow a different career path in the industry.
Safety a factor in hiring the best talent
Safety has, and will continue to play a major role in attracting employees to any job. Employees want to know first and foremost that their health and wellbeing is their employer’s top priority and their safety is of paramount importance. The construction industry is no different.
With improvements in regulations, personal protection and companies investing in better training, tools and technology, it is making the jobsite a much safer place. Smart cameras mounted on equipment detect dangerous hazards and improve visibility, increasing awareness and safety on site. New developments in fatigue technologies are also playing a role in increased safety. Mounted inside the cab, they work by monitoring eye-closure duration and head poses, sending immediate alarms to operators and site-managers. There are also wearables to alert operators and workers on site of proximity to potential dangers. All contribute to improved safety in the industry and provide assurance companies are vested in their employees.
Today’s advancements in machine technology and increased use of semi-autonomous machines on construction sites are allowing for operators of all abilities, experience and skills to quickly learn to operate the equipment safely and efficiently. Decreasing safety risks and providing better protection for workers on the job demonstrate how heavily invested the construction industry is in employee safety.
Advancements in GPS, telematics, artificial intelligence and automation have resulted in projects being built faster, safer, more efficiently, and cost effective with fewer risks involved. But with a large ageing workforce set to leave the industry in the next few years, more needs to be done to stem the labour shortage. Strides have been made in terms of promoting gender diversity and there may be more women in this typically male-dominated industry, but they are still dramatically under-represented. The industry itself needs to continue its work in attracting not only a younger generation but also a more diverse workforce. Some of this could be achieved by rethinking recruitment efforts.
With the construction industry changing – and technology levelling the playing field – it is the ideal time for companies to invest in finding new ways to attract the next generation of workers to construction. Offering challenging and fulfilling jobs creates opportunities for this generation to experience long-term, rewarding careers in the industry which could also lead to success in bridging the labour gap.
Kris Troppmann is regional technology manager at Finning Canada. Finning Canada is a division of Finning International Inc., the world’s largest Caterpillar equipment dealer.