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COVID-19 and the Construction Industry | A Force of Destruction or an Innovation Catalyst?


The Impact


The COVID-19 pandemic caught the entire world off guard, immediately changing our lives as we knew them. This was a historic shutdown on so many levels, hitting all industries in different ways. The construction industry was hit extremely hard, with immediate shutdowns on non-essential projects, and substantially increased material costs due to supply chain issues. As a result, most contractors have often been finding themselves playing catch up, with some still failing to adopt new technologies into their operations in order to efficiently remain compliant with the new regulations.


Increased Requirements for Safety & Documentation



In Canada, the construction industry provides jobs for over 1.5 million Canadians, therefore it is easy to see why companies have been placing such high significance on keeping up with the changing demands and regulations enforced by the government.


The level of safety and documentation required to provide a safe working environment for everyone has increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic. This increased demand has nudged contractors to explore ways to help decrease the overhead required to maintain the new procedures. Proactive companies, which had already invested heavily on digitizing their workflows, were miles ahead of their competitors when it came to adding new COVID-19 workflows and documentation into their day-to-day operations.


Adoption of New Building Trends



One of the positive aspects of the pandemic's impact on the industry has been the acceleration in new building method adoption such as prefabrication. With productivity levels remaining relatively stagnant over the last 50 years, the industry was patiently waiting for a catalyst to push it to the next level.


One might look back at this period in time and note that the pandemic might have been the catalyst that was required in order to push the construction industry forward towards fully adopting technology. Contractors are realizing that Construction software not only aids in decreasing the overhead required for the post pandemic world, but also greatly improves the safety and efficiency of their teams.


The Future


The adoption of digital technology in the construction industry is going to be very prominently seen throughout the world in the not too distant future. With the increased demands of safety and documentation, most contractors will have realized and seen firsthand how technology can help them digitize the workflows that have become essential during the global crisis.


We recently wrote about three game-changing technology trends, check it out here!


Taking it one step further, the future of construction technology is undoubtedly all about automation. This is the natural progression companies will take as they realize they can automate a lot of their digital processes, ultimately saving them loads of money and increasing efficiency throughout their organizations. In order to do so, business processes must first be analyzed in detail to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each workflow, and automation should be used wherever possible to decrease overhead.


Technology is Here to Help, Not Take Over



Building better projects involves constantly searching for better ways to do things, and much like construction methods, technology is also constantly improving. It is essential for organizations to stay up to date with the latest technology trends to ensure their organization has every competitive advantage they can get.


Future generations will continue to shape the construction industry, and it may not happen the way you think it will. I believe that contractors will continue to find it more and more difficult to attract and retain young skilled workers, as the youth continue to trend towards more flexible and modern work that is more suitable to their lifestyles.


Want tips on how to attract and retain young workers? We recently shared 4 strategies to help.


You might be wondering what the solution to the ongoing struggle to attract and retain young skilled workers will be, especially if there are so few new young workers coming into the industry...


Automation Is the Answer?



The construction industry and its workforce are changing rapidly and will continue to do so, with highly skilled workers retiring faster than they are being replaced.


Consequently, contractors and owners will need to place a significant importance on protecting the knowledge and expertise of their retiring workers. They likely would have accumulated more than a handful of priceless operational hacks and trades secrets over their careers that, if left undocumented and un-digitized, could mean lost dollars for any organization. Digitizing this knowledge brings many benefits, including providing tech savvy newcomers with easy access to a database of company processes, as well as secure and remote access to essential workflows.


Once this knowledge is digitized, I believe the industry as a whole will then shift focus towards automating as many internal and external workflows as possible. There will be an increased demand and need to fill the gaps left behind by these retired skilled tradespeople, so automations, particularly in the manufacturing industry, will be in full force. Prefabrication will be mass adopted by more and more contractors, allowing them to decrease the number of workers required to complete a project.


The simplest tasks to automate are repetitive physical activities in predictable environments; but construction environments are often unpredictable. So how would automations fit into such an unpredictable environment such as construction?


The easiest and quickest way to adopt automation in construction will be on the management side of things. With Construction Workflow Automation (CWA) software such as OnTraccr, companies will be able to automate repetitive and predictable tasks such as the generation, tracking, and storing of construction documents. Unique company workflows, such as managing safety documents, can all be easily recreated and automated where possible, significantly reducing overhead costs and increasing productivity.


To learn more about CWA automation tools, check out our previous article here.


As the adoption of automation increases, so will the need for specialized schooling and support from institutions to ensure there are skilled workers around to maintain these systems. With the glaring skilled labour shortage growing larger, and construction set to increase in the coming years, there has to be a shift in this direction in order to sustain the current growth projections.


Even Further Into the Future



As adoption grows, so will the reality of autonomous robots having an increasing presence around the job site. There are several companies already exploring the use of robots performing a variety of construction tasks, such as laying bricks, 3D printing houses, autonomous machinery, and many more. Robots are able to consistently perform tasks in calculated and extremely efficient ways. This can lead to major savings for companies.


A great example of this is CAT and their autonomous mining equipment being used currently throughout the world.


Ever wonder what a smart job site might look like in the future? Learn more here.


Final Thoughts


Despite the pandemic, the Canadian construction industry held up relatively well, continuing to operate while introducing a variety of changes. But as we adjust to the idea of this 'new normal', it’s clear that there’s no going back.


Job security and company morale has taken a hit during this period, so investments in up-skilling employees, new equipment, and new technologies, will help foster a healthier sense of community and belonging. Businesses that adopt new technologies quickly will have a leg up on their competitors, allowing them to continue to scale up or down without any interruptions to their workflows.


Finally, with young workers still continuing to avoid taking a chance on the construction industry, and the skilled labour gap only set to get larger, contractors need to start shifting their focus towards finding creative ways to solve this issue, and automation may be the answer.


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