digital shortage

Digital technology key to labour shortage

Contractors need to embrace digital tools to improve efficiency
Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The acute skilled labour shortage is impacting nine out of 10 Canadian construction companies’ ability to bid on projects and/or meet project deadlines, according to a new KPMG survey.

The survey of 275 companies shows that nearly 90 per cent are currently experiencing a shortage of skilled labour or trades. To address this, almost all contractors are examining ways to alleviate current labour constraints to meet demands including digital technology.

“Technology can help the construction industry address Canada’s housing and infrastructure challenges,” says Tom Rothfischer, partner, and national industry leader, building, construction, and real estate, KPMG in Canada. “Digital tools, if used smartly, save time and money, reduce waste, and improve worker safety and productivity. In short, they help get projects done on time or ahead of schedule and on budget.”

He notes that many technologies employed in the manufacturing sector can be deployed by the construction industry to increase productivity and reduce costs. 3D printing technologies in manufacturing have been adapted to the construction industry to lay concrete and build complex steel shapes. Robots can lay bricks and tie steel reinforcement bars. Drone-based surveying can help contractors quickly and accurately layout work, measure quantities, and monitor progress.

Building information modelling (BIM) allows project teams to collaborate more effectively to develop innovative solutions to optimize project cost and schedule. Digital twin technologies build on BIM to integrate real-time data from a built asset with its exact 3D virtual replica to test ‘what-if’ scenarios, including the impact of design changes, construction sequencing, weather disruptions, and operational changes.

As in other countries, Canada’s construction industry, which spans residential and commercial real estate, industrial, institutional, civil, and infrastructure, has been slow to adopt new digital technologies. However, the pandemic, combined with the intensifying labour shortage, has proven to be the catalyst the industry needed to rethink how they go about their business.

“We’re seeing a definite recalibration taking place in the construction sector,” says Rothfischer. “While many are still just at the beginning of their digital build, leaders see the power of technology to reshape the way they work and plan to invest heavily in the coming years. But having the technology is only half the battle. The real advantage will come to those firms who effectively integrate it into their operations – from the back office to the construction site.”

About 85 per cent of companies believe disruptive technologies could make their companies more competitive. Around 46 per cent of companies say they plan to spend more than 11 per cent of their corporate operating budget on tech and digital transformation.

“Leading firms are already adopting technology to improve productivity and project management, safety on worksites, and decision-making,” says Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA). “There is a cost however to investing in digitization that isn’t necessarily shared among all parties in the procurement process. Margins are slim in construction, especially for the small- and medium-sized contractors, making it increasingly difficult for them to adopt these types of innovations in their business operations. This is why CCA continues to work with federal departments in an effort to modernize procurement processes that encourage innovation by supporting shared risk.”

As companies embrace technologies, the composition of the workforce will also need to undergo change to incorporate new roles, such as software engineers, BIM designers, data analysts, and drone operators into the project team. For example, drones are increasingly used for planning and design, site analysis, topographic mapping, and land surveys, real-time monitoring, and on-site worker safety.

“The efficient allocation of trades is one of the industry’s most-pressing challenges and opportunities,” says Jordan Thomson, senior manager, infrastructure advisory, KPMG in Canada. “Many companies are deploying or planning to deploy digital tools to better improve efficiency on site and do more with less. The application of data analytics, wearables, and internet of thing sensors, and BIM can help to improve productivity, schedule efficiency, and quality, minimize waste, and improve worker safety.”


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