Every year, as summer comes to an end, there are a few things that I look forward to, the changing color of the leaves, the return of football season, and the start of a new network television season. This year SAG-AFTRA and the WGA unions are on strike with no end in sight. One of the biggest points of contention in this battle is the use of AI in place of actors and writers who fear that their jobs will be eliminated in the future. The construction industry is no stranger to union labor but unlike Hollywood, it is experiencing labor shortages. If done correctly, could embracing new technologies like AI be the key to solving this labor shortage?
The first thing to look at is how we got here and what is causing this labor shortage in the first place. It is no surprise that the pandemic played a role. Outside of the medical field, most industries found themselves with a surplus of workers on the unemployment lines during the pandemic. With mandated government shutdowns over health concerns, employers had no choice but to lay off labor to cut costs to survive. Another side effect of the pandemic on labor is what we now know as the “Great Resignation.” With no job to go to and endless amounts of time to sit at home and think about the future and what they wanted out of life, many people decided it wasn’t the job they were already doing. Additionally, across all industries, there is a generational shift in what employees expect from their employers. The cost of living is rising, people are getting married older, starting families later, and we live in a world where every day you are barraged on social media by people living “their best lives.” Gone are the days when working as much or more than your boss is a badge of honor. In construction specifically, you have the added hurdle of the physical demands of the job and the toll it takes on the body which doesn’t appeal to the younger generation.
One of these things would be difficult enough but trying to overcome them all at the same time is a different kind of challenge. All the solutions take time, while the side effects continue to plague the industry. The first is classic supply and demand, which means labor costs are increasing as the supply of labor is low. There are also increased demands for labor because of the increase in jobs which leads to project delays. Client satisfaction is struggling because of the delays and sometimes the labor solution is inexperienced labor which leads to a decrease in quality workmanship. Embracing technological advances won’t fix everything but here are the things it can help with.
Embracing software over spreadsheets:
This one is straightforward; better project management will increase overall job efficiency and lead to cost savings as well as more accurate financial information. There are also mobile apps that help monitor job progress, keep track of inventory, view blueprints, and generate reports needed to evaluate the jobs.
Data Collection Apps:
The ubiquity of apps in construction signifies a significant shift. The portability of tablets and smartphones enhances communication and remote work. Data collection apps, in particular, facilitate the rapid and accurate collection of high-quality job site data. Integrating these apps into workflows yields substantial time savings, reduced data entry errors, and streamlined reporting. Automation simplifies workflows, ensuring seamless task completion and sign-offs. Furthermore, data collection apps enhance safety compliance and empower instant reporting, enabling everything from equipment inspections to comprehensive safety analyses.
A not exactly new concept, offsite construction is gaining some traction. Utilizing the modular option means building small rooms like bathrooms completely offsite and then transporting them to the construction site and inserting them into the framework. This concept works best when the project has floorplans with repetitive designs and layouts which could range from hospitals and schools to fast food chains and hotels. The overall benefit is that the construction schedule becomes condensed making the time you need your labor force to go down as well.
Robotics and AI:
Robotics are another option if you have simple, repetitive tasks. Not only can bricklaying robots work faster than human workers, but they also don’t have to experience the physical tax of lifting bricks and bending over to set them. The other benefit of robots is that unlike the issues plaguing other industries, they aren’t designed to replace the human component of the job. Workers are still required to set up the robot, start the machine and check their work afterward but the number of workers is reduced. AI is being used similarly to improve the employee experience. Not only can it identify the ideal time for tasks to be completed and increase scheduling efficiency, but it is being used to help make the construction industry less dangerous.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR):
These immersive technologies revolutionize construction training and processes. Augmented Reality provides on-site guidance, overlaying digital information onto the real world, facilitating precise work, and reducing errors. Virtual Reality creates simulated environments for training, enabling workers to practice tasks in a safe, controlled setting. Additionally, both AR and VR enhance design reviews by allowing stakeholders to visualize and make informed decisions about construction projects before physical work begins.
Drones are reshaping the construction landscape with their versatility. They perform accurate site surveys, capturing detailed topographical data that aids in precise project planning. Drones also track construction progress, enabling real-time monitoring of project milestones. In challenging or hazardous areas, drones inspect structures without risking worker safety. They offer an unprecedented aerial perspective, facilitating better decision-making and streamlined project management.
While still maturing, 3D printing is poised to transform construction. By fabricating intricate components and even entire structures with precision and efficiency, it has the potential to reduce reliance on labor-intensive processes. This technology enables rapid prototyping, customized construction elements, and cost-effective production. The ability to create complex geometries and optimize material usage holds promise for revolutionizing traditional construction methodologies.
3D Laser Scanner:
A game-changer in construction, the 3D laser scanner captures real-world objects with unparalleled precision. This technology revolutionizes site surveying, enabling high-accuracy measurements for layout and design validation. It facilitates project inspection by offering a comprehensive digital replica of the construction site, aiding in quality control and issue detection. By enhancing accuracy and efficiency, the 3D laser scanner empowers construction professionals to streamline processes and minimize rework.
4D simulations introduce time as a dimension, revolutionizing project planning and execution. They create dynamic visualizations that showcase the construction process from start to finish, accounting for the passage of time. These simulations allow stakeholders to identify potential clashes, optimize resource allocation, and predict project timelines accurately. By offering a holistic view, 4D simulations enable better decision-making, reducing uncertainties and enhancing overall project efficiency.
Technology, like anything else, comes with its benefits and faults. The construction industry is no different from any other in that regard, and while I might not see new episodes of my favorite TV shows anytime soon, companies that embrace this technology may be able to alleviate the labor gap.
Professional Experience: Kimberly joined the firm in 2023 as a Tax Director. She started her career at a boutique CPA firm and now has fifteen years of honing her skills in providing clients with tax planning and advisory services in a variety of industries. She also has spent time working in assurance services and brings the analytics skills she developed in that practice to her tax clients and uses them to advise on improving profitability and efficiency.