The Impact Of Automation In Construction Industry

by XAMTA INFOTECH Construction Industry August 11, 2021

While the term "automation" might evoke images of robots replacing jobs, the reality is much more nuanced. In the construction industry, automation is less likely to reduce employment opportunities than to enhance productivity. Automation in the construction industry has the potential to significantly increase efficiency, particularly considering the global demand for new infrastructure and affordable housing. Adapting to this shift involves developing new skills within the existing and future workforce.

Historically, construction productivity increased slowly. From 1947 to 2010, productivity in construction in the United States hardly changed. In contrast, manufacturing and agriculture, industries that embraced automation, experienced a productivity increase by factors of eight and sixteen, respectively. One major advantage of automation in construction is the potential for a substantial boost in productivity.

There are three primary opportunities for automation in the construction industry. The first involves automating traditional physical tasks on-site, such as robots laying bricks and machines paving roads. The second opportunity arises from automating modular construction or production in factories, including 3-D printing of components. The third revolves around digitization and subsequent automation of design, planning, and management procedures, creating significant efficiencies on-site.

Impact on Employment in Construction

A significant shift to modular construction off-site could affect the construction workforce, but this transition will take time. The automation process in factories producing modules is expected to increase over time. Approximately 15 to 20% of new construction buildings are estimated to be modular in the United States and Europe by 2030. For on-site activities, rather than completely replacing workers, machines are likely to take over specific tasks within a role.

Workers will need to adapt by working alongside machines or in hybrid roles. For instance, even a traditional construction worker may need to use a tablet to access building plans or operate a drone for a site walkthrough instead of doing it physically.

Future Job Outlook

While automation presents substantial opportunities across industries, employment in construction is expected to undergo less impact than in industries with more repetitive activities, such as manufacturing. Construction's unpredictable environment, customized projects, and diverse demands make it less susceptible to automation. The overall number of jobs in construction is expected to grow, with up to 200 million more jobs by 2030 if countries address global infrastructure gaps and increase affordable housing supply.

Despite potential upsides, any slowdown in global construction could counter some of these positive trends. However, the overall expectation is that there will be sufficient work, especially considering the substantial need for infrastructure and housing in parts of Asia and Africa.

Impact on Construction Wages

Automation is likely to result in a larger spread in wages. While productivity improvements may lead to higher wages for workers with advanced skills in the long run, those involved in predictable, repetitive tasks may experience slower wage growth. The construction industry, with its middle-wage range jobs that are not easily automated, may contribute to mitigating the decline of the middle class.

Addressing Workforce Skill Transition

As in all industries, automation in construction will create a skill mismatch. Workers will require a blend of physical and technological skills. The public sector, private sector, and industry associations need to collaborate to help workers acquire the necessary skills for this transition.

The public sector traditionally plays a role in providing baseline training, and this role is likely to continue. However, curricula must evolve to meet current and future needs, particularly for technological and socioemotional skills. Reskilling and upskilling workers who left formal education decades ago will require an evolution of the education system to provide lifelong learning opportunities.

The private sector, recognizing its role in addressing specialized skill needs, needs to invest more in the workforce's skills. Construction, historically investing less than other industries, must adapt to the changing skill requirements. Institutions should proactively provide access to skill development opportunities, investing in their existing workforce to prepare them for the evolving job landscape.

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