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Tech Skills and New Talent Are Shaping Future of Construction


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Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum

At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018, 74 percent of the participants agreed that attracting new talent and building up skills in technology are the two crucial things construction companies should be doing. Sixty-one percent of CEOs and ministers said that adopting advanced technologies on a large scale is important. Sixty-five percent also admitted that “better integration and collaboration across the value chain” is a priority.

The meeting included the presentation of a report from the World Economic Forum, entitled Shaping the Future of Construction. It was the result of a three-year study of new realities in the Infrastructure and Urban Development, or construction, industries. 

It concludes that in the future, the construction industry will require:

  • Experts in artificial intelligence (AI), data analysis, and programming, 

  • Experts in modular design, lean process skills, and logistics, and

  • Resource-efficiency engineers, resilience experts, and circular economy specialists. 

The report suggests that talent will need to be found in new places, for instance, in the gaming industry. According to the report, “Digital skills from the gaming industry could be transferred to construction applications, such as building information modeling (BIM) or virtual and augmented reality.”

Women are another source of untapped talent: They currently constitute only 13 percent of the construction workforce. 

Women are another source of untapped talent: They currently constitute only 13 percent of the construction workforce. 

The report also says the industry has an “image problem.” It could deter high-potential candidates as “two thirds of participants in a YouGov poll said they would never consider a career in the construction industry.” The report suggests playing up the industry’s role in solving global problems. “To make industry jobs more attractive, companies should adopt innovative technologies, more modern workplaces, attractive career paths, and forward-looking corporate cultures.” 

The report was prepared in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group. It describes hypothetical scenarios that would require players to adopt advanced technologies, integrate and collaborate with other companies, and attract technology-savvy workers. 

For this initiative, members of the World Economic Forum created three futuristic scenarios: Building in a Virtual World, in which computers and robots would run the industry; Factories Run the World, in which prefabrication and modular building would dominate; and A Green Reboot, which would put eco-friendly construction methods first. 

The scenarios “are an opportunity to foresee the possible outcomes of current trends and to be well prepared for a broad variety of possible futures.” They imagine what the construction industry could be like if existing technologies ramp up to full force.

In the first scenario, called Building in a Virtual World, the report suggests that design and engineering firms will stay a step ahead if they embrace the idea of interconnected intelligent design and building systems, along with robots doing the work. Such a company will build essential software, and it will “own the customer interface, AI-based design and engineering algorithms and 7D BIM models with the data needed to steer construction and O&M activities.” 

The report recommends that construction companies should use data and digital models as much as possible because they are key to growth and integration of processes. BIM models can be expanded from 3D to 7D. “In the virtual-world future, AI-based design and engineering systems will create 7D BIM models with all the information needed later in an asset’s life, including 3D object data, scheduling (4D), cost (5D), sustainability (6D), and operations and maintenances (O&M) (7D).” 

The report recommends that construction companies should use data and digital models as much as possible because they are key to growth and integration of processes.

All of the stakeholders in a building project would need access to data, including data from sensors embedded in existing assets that will help guide the design of new assets. Construction companies will need to develop “data lakes” and data governance structures. “The goal is providing consistent access to the same data pool to all company digital applications.” Therefore, strong cybersecurity to protect data will be essential in this future scenario. 

The second future scenario explored in Shaping the Future of Construction is called Factories Run the World, and in this scenario, integrated contracts on projects, such as design build, integrated project delivery, and public-private partnerships, would help construction companies advance. Some construction companies are acquiring software companies, and this sort of consolidation would be key. For example, Arcadis, a Dutch design and engineering company, purchased SEAMS, a UK-based software and analytics firm. 

In the third future scenario, “decades-long neglect of climate change and dwindling natural resources devastate the planet. A group of powerful countries takes action after recognizing that any further deterioration of natural resources threatens Humanity.” In response, nations would work together to halt the overuse of resources and encourage eco-friendly practices.

The report also finds that construction companies only spent about 1 percent of total revenue on research and development, compared to 3 percent in manufacturing and 10 percent in aerospace. 

Construction companies need new ways to develop and test innovative technologies.

Construction companies need new ways to develop and test innovative technologies; they could collaborate on R&D with customers, start-ups, and universities. “Integrating new technologies into existing workflows is just as important as developing it in the first place. (…) Optimizing the interfaces people will use to interact with the technologies should be just as important as making sure applied systems can work together properly.” 

The report advises “a culture of cooperation rather than rivalry with the new innovation centers.” 

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