CONTRACTOR: Are We Headed Toward a Tech Skill Chasm?

  • March 20, 2021

Originally published by Randy Marks, Director of Operations at ZELUS, on CONTRACTOR®, Are We Headed Toward a Tech Skill Chasm?

The adoption of technology in the construction industry in 2020 hit a record high, outpacing even the most aggressive forecasts. In fact, the annual State of Construction Tech report by JLL found the rate of tech adoption reached in just the last nine months of 2020 would’ve normally taken three years to achieve.

Though the industry has been progressing toward advanced technology, the sudden and forced shift to a remote world meant construction teams needed to embrace digital collaboration platforms, virtual scanning tools and building information modeling (BIM) to keep employees safe, job sites running and projects on schedule. And while the acceleration of technology adoption may have been brought on by necessity, organizations and teams that have been reluctant in the past have now started to realize the efficiency benefits and will be looking to integrate technology.

As this shift occurs, it raises the question of whether we have enough of a technology-proficient workforce to meet the increased demand.

Is the skills gap widening?

The skills gap is not a new challenge, but the rapid pace of advanced technology adoption has intensified the spotlight on this issue. We’ve already started to see a shift among jobs that didn’t previously require professionals to be technologically skilled now moving in that direction.

This is being driven by several forces including the need to be more cost and time efficient, the current trade labor shortage, and the need to reduce the number of people on job sites. More owners are now requiring digital representations of their buildings and projects, and those that don’t have a digital-first strategy in place to meet that requirement will be at a competitive disadvantage. 

As these forces coalesce, there will be growing demand for talent knowledgeable about 3d technology, building information modeling (BIM), and adept with the software used to apply these technologies. We’ll need technicians who understand how to use 3d technology like laser scanning and automated optical cameras, but more importantly, we will need individuals who understand how to synthesize that data and convert it to a functional end product.

This is where we’ll likely realize one of the biggest hurdles in our industry going forward. There’s not a deep enough mastery of 3d modeling software and supporting platforms. As a result, we’ll see the skill gap widen in the software proficiency, not the hardware.

Are we failing to train up-and-coming construction professionals?

Traditionally, in the construction industry, there were jobs that didn’t require technological skill, but now that’s changing—and it’s changing at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, training for these necessary skills is not keeping up with the advancement of technology and the demand.

There are three primary contributing factors to this: the education system, an aging workforce, and the sudden transition to remote environments. Many of the trade schools that used to focus on technical instruction have disappeared and most universities simply aren’t prepping students for the real world. The education system is failing to train people in the technological and programming skills required to work in the current climate and thrive in the real world. The curriculum hasn’t advanced or changed with the pace of technological advancement. To meet today’s demand. 

The other contributor factor is the age group of the workforce. As technology advances, it’s going to be tough to keep up. Even the people in their 30s and 40s are quickly finding the technologies they were trained on in school are rapidly being phased out as technology advances. To keep themselves sharp they’ve either had to take ongoing education into their own hands or land at an organization that prioritizes continued education and development. 

But even for many organizations that did make training available to their teams, the sudden transition from in-the-office to remote has added a new barrier. As companies figure out how to adapt training to accommodate a virtual world, individuals are going to miss out on the on-the-job training that inherently happens when you’re in the office or on the job site together.

How do we begin to close the gap?

To address this chasm, we need to create an educational system that trains individuals on the tools and technologies being used in the real world.  They have to learn the software that’s currently being used and understand how it’s impacting the construction industry. But until that happens, I believe the onus will be on employers to develop and train the current and next generation of construction and design professionals.

Fortunately, we have access to more information than we’ve ever had before. Many are turning to YouTube and LinkedIn Learning to go through courses on data analytics, BIM, and even specific software like Revit, BIM 360 and others. Companies, ours included, are also building training libraries on platforms like LinkedIn Learning using content curated from others.

As technology becomes more pervasive across all slices of business, the only way to solve the impending skill shortage is to meet it head-on with the training and education tools that are as equally advanced and as rapidly evolving. If we don’t prioritize technical education, we’ll likely see the shortage of tech talent increase wages for the skilled few which could result in increased production costs.