For centuries, construction processes and models have remained relatively the same, with few changes made to techniques and technologies used. The industry has relied on skilled manual labour, basic machinery, and simple materials to get the job done for industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) projects and residential projects alike. As a result, construction has been deemed stagnant compared to other industries, criticized for its lack of innovation and its inefficiencies, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The good news is that the construction industry is changing.
Building Information Modelling (BIM), 3D printing, autonomous and semi-autonomous equipment, wireless and virtual reality (VR) technologies, prefabrication, and modular are making their way into the construction world, and it’s hitting all at once. We now have designs that showcase innovative materials and complex geometries, with new methodologies to meet production and building efficiencies — and the trend is only expanding. With the automation of many production processes, we see this applied to the construction sector where entire buildings can be built under controlled conditions in an offsite facility, shipped to site, and erected or installed in literally hours.
Technology and processes are evolving in all industries, and with each advancement a new set of skills is needed to meet the growing demands. As we transition into a more innovative industry, people working in construction must continue to embrace new technology to do their jobs, be it on site or from the office. From scheduling apps that tell a worker what he or she is working on during any given day and virtual reality software that allows tradespeople to “construct” a project before a shovel even hits a ground to GPS-based equipment that allows excavators to work within millimeters of a desired design, we are seeing industry advancements that impact the job from conception to completion.
So, what does this all mean? Why is this important to our new workforce?
At a time when our industry is challenged with doing more with less, we are seeing added complexity in projects, new regulatory requirements, and a myriad of other social influences. As our industry develops and adapts, we must ensure our workforce does as well. A tradesperson’s knowledge and experience, coupled with an aptitude for innovation, are fundamental in seeing these bigger and more complicated projects through to fruition.
The people we bring into the construction sector today not only need to have strong trade skills, they must also be adaptable to modern technology — now, and in the future. They must have an aptitude to learn and expand their knowledge base, so they can effectively deploy these emerging technologies in the real world, whether that’s from a desk or on the jobsite. They need to be creative in developing new processes to solve problems and deliver innovation that they never had to in the past. Fortunately, the generation that will be our future workforce is, at the very least, more inclined to be technologically savvy.
For any new person looking to pursue a career as a skilled tradesperson, they are required to undergo a rigorous training regime to meet the high standards that our industry demands. For instance, in many skilled trades programs with participants working towards Red Seal Certification or “skilled status”, individuals can spend up to four years in practical work experience as an apprentice on top of technical training requirements typically provided by community colleges. One might argue that trades programs are as challenging, if not more challenging, than many postsecondary degrees or diplomas in our colleges and universities today. Much like their counterparts at said postsecondary institutions, participants must have the dedication, intellect, and drive to successfully complete these certifications and be successful in their trade.
As we look to fill 15,000 new construction jobs in British Columbia by 2025 — on top of the nearly 58,000 jobs to be replaced, largely due to retirement — it must be acknowledged that the construction industry has changed significantly over the past couple of decades and will continue to change as we look to the future. Although many principles and techniques remain the same, there have been drastic improvements when it comes to how technology is employed in the construction sector.
The learning of new skills, techniques, and technologies never stops, particularly in the age of information, big data, and Internet of Things (IoT) that we are in today. Once in the workforce, new tradespeople will not only spend years “learning the ropes” but they will also need to adapt their skills and knowledge in the years that follow as they continue to embrace innovation in construction. We are in an era of transformation for our industry that we haven’t experienced before, and our skilled labour force will continue to adapt as needed.
Rory Kulmala is CEO of Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA), serving the institutional, commercial, industrial, civil, and multi-family residential construction sectors on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and other coastal areas of B.C. VICA’s 430 plus members come from all areas of the industry from owners, architects, and engineers to consultants, manufacturers, and contractors. www.vicabc.ca