Workforce transformation: Are construction companies ahead of the curve?

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Is the severe shortage of skilled construction labour as real as industry associations assert?

An International Data Corporation (IDC) construction industry workplace transformation study sponsored by Telus suggests that 37 per cent of medium-sized (50 to 999 employees) construction employers surveyed say they are experiencing a skills shortage. This is low compared to other industries, where on average 44 per cent report shortages.

IDC_TELUS_Industry_Brief_Construction

“This is intriguing, as construction industry associations have dedicated lobbying efforts (at federal and provincial levels) to creating and maintaining a pool of sufficiently skilled tradespeople.  What this  means is even if the skills shortage hasn’t hit midsize construction yet, their own experts indicate it will be a pipeline issue soon.”

Another interesting (and contradictory to general observations) observation in the survey indicates that the construction industry (at least for the approximately 30 mid-sized firms in the survey pool) is further along the path to digital workplace transformation than the general survey population of about 2,000 businesses.

The research shows there are four distinctive phases in “workplace transformation driven by priorities and investments, each with distinct results as measured by their chosen KPIs (Key Performance Indicators.)

As an example, 10 per cent of the construction firms reported they were “skeptics” about transformation compared to 17 per cent of the general business population. “Skeptics are unaware of, or uncertain about, the level of workplace transformation taking place today. They don’t understand its advantages and how fast they are falling behind competitors.”

At the other end, the number of “leaders” in the construction industry is, at 23 per cent, slightly higher than other sectors, averaging at 21 per cent. “Leaders have integrated multiple digital solutions and seen sustained improvements in key metrics,” the study asserts. “They enable work anywhere/anytime, prioritizing automation and cloud-enabled solutions to improve collaboration.”

Despite these characteristics, the mid-sized businesses don’t expect much to change in the next three years. If the survey is correct, this is either because they’ve already embraced the changes or simply don’t think they will affect their businesses very much.

Other study finding indicate:

The industry is embracing physical automation.

“Construction primarily invests in automation to drive productivity (65 per cent versus 48 per cent nationally) with less interest in reducing labour costs (10 per cent adopt primarily for this reason) or improving quality.”

It is enabling work in mobile environments.

A  majority of contractors (70 per cent) have created or are creating collaborative areas within their workplace and 67 per cnet of construction organizations have implemented or are implementing a work-from-home policy.

Construction companies prioritize connected workers, tools and buildings.

They are “ahead of the national average in connecting their workforce, investing in smart buildings and utilizing VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phones,” the survey found. “Unfortunately, their collaboration efforts slightly lag behind the national average concerning the adoption of a cloud-based productivity suite, a unified video communications system and a videoconferencing solution.”

The industry is slower with cloud and virtual applications.

The study says the construction companies lag other industries in data and analytics investments, as well as augmented reality/virtual realty adoption. However, construction companies’ investments in technologies like mobile device management, mobile business apps and IT infrastructure (both cloud and on-premise) are on par with other industries.

Security doesn’t draw much attention.

“Construction companies place less priority on security when investing in physical automation, but they are equally likely to work with security consultants or managed security partners than businesses in other industries,” the survey reported. “The risks is high – construction firms are equally at risk as any other industry in terms of ransomware susceptibility and losing control of their remote assets.”

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