The Robots Are Coming (To Address The Labor Shortage)

Article as published on Forbes Council Post. René Morkos is a Forbes Technology Council Member.

Have no fear: Contrary to the opinions of pop culture and media, the robots aren’t coming for your construction job.

Have no fear: Contrary to the opinions of pop culture and media, the robots aren’t coming for your construction job.

Although the findings of a 2018 study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) indicate that nearly 49% of construction tasks could be automated (paving the way for the replacement or displacement of nearly 2.7 million jobs in construction by 2057), these estimates failed to anticipate significant trends affecting the construction workforce. These include, most notably, the “aging out” of skilled labor and a global post-Covid-19 labor shortage.

There simply aren’t enough bodies to fill construction’s growing demand.

According to data published in 2021 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65% of workers are aged 35 and older, with 21% above age 55. And although the number of new workers entering the labor force has increased slightly over the last few years, there simply aren’t enough laborers to fill the estimated 650,000 roles left vacant in 2022.

The construction labor shortage is a global crisis.

The U.S. construction industry isn’t alone in facing the challenges of demographic drought. A global decline in birthrates is already affecting other industries and trades, especially in countries such as Italy and Japan, where the population of aging workers drastically outweighs those entering the market. With the global construction industry estimating a CAGR of 7.3% (achieving record figures exceeding $17 trillion by 2029), the crisis extends far beyond U.S. borders.

Challenges posed by worker shortages abound.

A 2020 study conducted by the AGC surveyed nearly 1,000 construction developers and contractors, asking them to report back on current challenges posed by today’s labor shortage. Of those respondents, 40% noted they’re experiencing delays in project completion, 44% cited higher project costs and 57% noted that a lack of skilled labor negatively impacts worker health and safety.

The health and safety of construction workers are at stake.

The last figures cited above are especially noteworthy. In 2019, the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reported 1,102 construction worker fatalities—a 6% increase over the previous year. For those over age 55, the risk of death is 80% higher than for those aged 35 and under—making an aging workforce a top concern.

 

In addition, 80% of contractors and developers have noted concern at the risks to health and safety posed by untrained laborers joining the workforce—and rightly so. Inexperienced workers are disproportionately subjected to injuries, as studies show that 60% of construction injury cases happen during the first year of employment.

Another consequence of the shortage of skilled construction labor is decreased quality and productivity. Inexperienced project managers or laborers may inadvertently cause costly delays or fail to deliver the high-quality work required to meet project parameters. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the financial risk posed by the employment of unseasoned workers may not be one that developers and contractors can afford to absorb.

Automation can maximize the existing workforce.

Although the construction industry has been slower to adopt automation than other industries, it now sits at an exciting intersection—one in which the implementation of innovative technologies can mitigate the impacts of the labor crisis. In today’s construction environment, cutting-edge technology can be leveraged to make the most of available labor while potentially improving the work environment.

Robots can convert dangerous, labor-intensive roles to supervisory positions.

Construction is hard, physically intense work—but it doesn’t have to be. Robotic equipment can be used to reduce the burden of physically stressful positions or replace the need for manual labor.

From bricklaying to rebar tying, robots can take on the most dangerous construction tasks tirelessly and with no risk of injury. The operation, support and supervision of autonomous machinery can often be conducted by workers with minimal training, creating more flexible staffing and scheduling opportunities while maximizing work output.

Augmented reality and visual solutions increase site visibility and streamline oversight.

Imagine conducting remote site visits and safety inspections or gaining up-to-the-minute insight on project progression digitally. Today’s technology-enabled solutions can make this relatively simple and instantaneous. Senior workers with valuable build experience can leverage visually driven construction tech to shift from onsite management to remote monitoring of multiple simultaneous projects, making the most of their time while reducing exposure to physical risk.

High-tech wearables improve safety and identify hazards.

Smart hardhats, sensor-connected safety boots and robotic power suits all sound like something out of a science-fiction book, but what they actually share is the ability to enhance worker safety and productivity. From alerting workers to the proximity of dangerous equipment to monitoring brain waves for signs of sleepiness, tech-enabled wearables support the health and wellness of available labor and help reduce onsite accidents and fatalities.

AI-driven solutions improve efficiency and create new categories of work.

From generative design to construction optioneering, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) can help transform your project planning, workflow and efficiency—before you ever break ground. Today’s AI-driven tools can model your project in 4-D, revealing innovative ways to build, schedule, manage and make the most of project resources. Digitization of your project data and workflow goes beyond the effective scheduling and application of labor—it helps unlocks new efficiencies and creates appealing opportunities for a generation of workers interested in construction tech.

The robots are here to help. Why not embrace them?

The fastest and most effective way to relieve construction’s skilled labor shortage is to support available workers. When it comes to advances in construction tech, providing that support also happens to help increase productivity and reduce exposure to risk while building a better, safer work environment. That’s a win-win for the construction industry. Why not embrace it?

 Read the article as on Forbes here.

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