Automation is catching a ton of momentum. Not just in construction, but in nearly every industry. A 2019 study showed that 38% of jobs in the U.S. are at a “high risk” of being automated within the next decade; when it comes to the construction industry, global predictions estimate between 35% to 41%.
There’s no question that automation will change the landscape of construction and engineering. It’s already doing so with disruptive technology like site robotics, smart sensors for smart buildings, and real-time AI. And it’s easy to think this will threaten the need of people and workers, but in reality, changes in technology make people even more critical to project success.
No matter how sophisticated automation and technology get, there will always be a need for human insight, knowledge and experience. Here’s why.
No two projects are ever the same
Even with a few jobs under your belt, you’ll understand that every project has its own unique set of challenges.
Whether it’s scope changes, unpredictable complications, challenges with subcontractors, even drastic weather conditions — something different always happens with every job, requiring the need for on-site management and real-time adjustments.
There will always need to be planning, organizing, risk management and detail control on every project, from start to completion. This kind of work requires workplace knowledge and experienced people. Even with the addition of new technology and systems, it will lead to potentially further complexities and new situations to respond to.
Experience is irreplaceable
Similar to having project experience, a lot of workers also have skill sets that range across numerous diverse disciplines.
Automation can’t do this. Its purpose is to do one job, and to do it really well and really fast. While people with a wide range of experience are able to pivot, adjust and do what needs to be done at any given moment. This sort of knowledge is impossible to replicate, and with each worker, that set of skills is uniquely valuable.
Getting a job done on time and on budget is all about responsiveness. To answer: how well can you respond to an unexpected situation? Do you have a workforce with the experience needed to change focus, adjust to new goals?
Automation and new technology are great for efficiency, but without the experience of people to put the pieces together, that technology won’t get very far.
Effective safety requires human insight
Worker and public safety are always a top priority, that won’t ever change. AI and machine learning can act as a complementary tool to reduce risk and identity construction workflow trends to increase jobsite safety, but again, it’s only a tool. Having safety at 100% requires human insight and management.
Health & Safety managers do everything from training, sharing preventative education, ensuring employees wear the appropriate protective equipment, the list goes on. If an emergency ever comes up, they are the ones who ensure everyone in and around a job site is safe and away from the identified risk.
Yes, technology takes health and safety to the next level — for example, with the use of drones, safety managers can search a construction area for potential safety issues and hazards that may require intervention. But it doesn’t hold the full solution.
Discussion and negotiation
Negotiation and meetings are an essential part to every job — from finalizing contract agreements during pre-construction to meeting with municipalities, the general public and interest groups.
That requires not only having the right people, but the right team from the moment the project starts. Here’s something technology can’t do: discuss, negotiate and operate a business.
In a highly saturated industry, the companies with the people who can effectively discuss and negotiate get the upper-hand. There’s no getting around that. It’s the people that really make a company sink or stand above the rest.
New technology means new skill sets
We’ve mentioned this, but again, as technologies adapt, new skill sets will be required. With the landscape of construction facing a ton of change and growth in 2019 and beyond, there will only be more opportunities opened up for industry workers.
In 2017, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost, noted that automation allows new ecosystems to develop into the workplace; giving professionals the opportunity for better and more meaningful work by reducing redundant and repetitive tasks. Saying that: “automation increases the importance of our expertise and creativity.”
Automation is meant to work alongside our workers to increase productivity and to boost a company’s bottom line. Also, it allows those top-notch, experienced workers to focus on what they’re best at and to spend less time on the time-consuming, repetitive work.
Again, people aren’t going anywhere. If anything, the experience and skill set of construction workers across trades and specialties will only expand and become more important as we move forward into the new decade.