As of January 2023, one in 20 construction jobs were unfilled. The labor shortage is a discussion that was being had far before the words COVID-19 became a common household phrase. Still, the pandemic caused hiring to stagnant. Since that time, the industry has slowly began to recover jobs lost in the early months of 2020, according to analysis from Marcum LLP, but it is still slow going—and the pace of hiring certainly would be seeing a more rapid pace if not for the construction labor shortages. I know I am preaching to the choir, but this is a big problem that we need some big solutions to—and I have a few ideas.
The labor shortage was perhaps one of the biggest topics of discussion at CONEXPO-CON/AGG last month. “The labor shortage is a big issue for construction,” says AJ Waters, vice president, industry solutions, InEight. “It is not just that we can’t bring people in. It is that we are losing people and we are losing the knowledge. It is walking out the door.”
If I am being candid here, mentorship won’t be enough to solve this problem. It is a good first step, but we need more than one tool and strategy for how to address this worker shortage. We need technology—in more ways than one.
Certainly, technology can help by doing more with less. With great efficiency, naturally we will need fewer people, but that alone won’t be enough to fill in the gap. We also need VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) to help teach the trades how to use the tools. We need technology to help educate them on how to become a craftsperson. We need technology to entice them to consider construction in the first place.
Still, there is another way technology can help. Systems can help capture knowledge from the older generations before it walks out the door. Waters points to historical benchmarking, AI (artificial intelligence), and doing machine learning on past costs.
“(Technology) can start to take what is in those people’s brains—that foundation is $300 a cubic yard; I know that because I have always known that—and it is going to start pulling that out and putting it inherently into the software so the new user is fed a little bit more information than they used to be and they don’t have to get it checked by a senior person as often,” he says.
Such technology already exists—and continues to advance—to be able to capture the knowledge that is critical to ensuring project success in construction.
“We already have it in our schedule,” Waters says. “We are implementing it into our budget next. We have our scheduling solution automatically suggesting risks based on the activity, where it is at in the sequence, what region it is in, and this kind of risk might be coming up. So, the next phase is to get it into the budgets. This is what you are estimating. Based on that estimation, here is how you have done it the last 20 times, here is the consumer price index, escalation rate on that material, what do you want to do? That one will be released later this year. We are getting closer and closer by the day. The gap isn’t years like it used to be. It is months.”
At the end of the day, technology is a good solution to many of the problems that currently exist in business. Now, the question remains: Will construction leverage it to solve the challenges it faces with the labor shortage?
Only time will tell if solutions like InEight will fill the void between knowledge and experience.
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