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How the Construction Industry has Changed and Where it’s Headed in 2020

The construction industry has experienced turbulent changes in the past 10 years. We encountered a major labor shortage after the financial collapse, followed by an expansive boom in development projects nationwide. In this last decade, we also saw the biggest increase in technological and software advancements for the construction industry, and as we look forward, we don’t anticipate this slowing down.

Looking back at the past decade:

The economic collapse of 2008 and the following years of recession impacted individuals across various industries, and within construction, we saw a labor shortage that still never really recovered. Once the market began to restabilize and improve, the construction industry started booming across the U.S., and according to the Commerce Department, construction spending rose more than expected in November 2017 to a record $1.257 trillion.

However, even ten years after the recession, in 2018, the Commercial Construction Index found that 91% of more than 2,700 surveyed contractors, managers and builders reported having a difficult or moderately difficult time finding skilled workers. Without as many skilled laborers, the demand for projects and resources exceeded the amount of laborers able to fulfill them, causing an issue for construction projects nationwide. 

Because of this, construction companies had to become more efficient in the way they recruited new workers and deployed them to job sites. This created a trend of lean product development, which made safety even more important, because without as many career contractors, construction workers, foremen and managers, the new hires were less skilled and less trained for the job. 

Through this transition, human resources became even more critical as organizations needed to find faster ways to get people on the job site and start working — safely. We began to see an evolution of safety on the job and a paradigm shift where people are more aware of the importance of safety. The industry had to become a lot better at self-policing and embracing standard best practices in order to keep its employees safe. 

This brings us to present day, where we’re seeing an increased emphasis on the importance on communication and safety as construction teams are recognizing the need for the deployment of technology on the job site. 

Looking ahead.

Over the next decade, construction is poised to have a technological revolution, and in 2020, the need for exposure-based training is evident. 

Younger generations and new workers have grown up in a world of mobile technologies such as cell phones and tablets, and are accustomed to having constant access to the world-wide-web.  With people a lot more familiar with tech, we anticipate seeing more advancements and availability in technology specifically made for the front line. Further, with augmented reality coming to the forefront, we expect to see a large scale industry adoption of technology platforms for craftsmen. 

New platforms are also allowing construction workers to have access to critical information and interactive training modules right in their pockets. These are proving to be highly engaging, efficient and effective. For example, a 3D simulation of a Scissor Lift safety “hazard hunt” tests the workers by having them identify all of the potential hazards on a job site such as tilt, unsafe conditions and proximity to power lines and how to mitigate those risks. Things like fire safety prevention can now be more than a slide show, but an immersive experience to identify the proper fire extinguisher based on the type of fire the simulator is creating, allowing the worker to practice the PASS method (pull, aim, squeeze, sweep) for putting out a fire. 

With simulators, workers can now be put in the worst-case scenario and learn how to engage and move forward in the safest way possible. This allows for training without causing danger to the person, equipment or investment costs. Ultimately, new exposure-based training is educating people on how to overcome natural biases that put them in harm’s way and to be aware of all the risks of a specific task or job site. 

Now that construction companies can rely on e-learning, videos and interactive simulators to train, safety managers can focus on strategic safety planning. While safety teams currently rely on live, in-person training, they can’t physically get to all the job sites to fulfill all compliance training requirements, let alone perform strategic training to address each job site’s specific hazards. By mixing in digital training delivered to mobile devices, safety teams can rapidly get more training to more workers. This allows the safety teams to focus their live training capacity on major exposures and common losses and create innovative strategies to combat them.

Technology is also assisting in the planning processes, as many companies are focusing on developing the ability to pre-visualize what the architectural designs will look like in the attempt to catch flaws before they’re even on the ground. Further, virtual reality walkthroughs and being able to adjust architectural layouts ensure that owners are able to see what the project will look like and be able to formulate a plan around it. This has revolutionized the industry to date and will continue to do so. 

Beyond 2020, we’ll see increased implementation of AI, machine learning and augmented reality within the next decade. This will create massive potential for the future of construction in planning, finding better and more efficient ways to use material and identifying faster ways to get the job done. Other mechanical innovations such as bricklaying robots and drone-led investigations have become more popular within the construction industry, and as we look past 2020, we’ll start to see their use become more prolific. That said, we don’t anticipate the need for trained workers to decrease. 

Construction will continue to evolve and innovate as technology advances, and from where we sit, one of its most important and effective applications in 2020 is training and communicating with the frontline.

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