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By Erica Sweeney
June 12, 2017
Attracting millennials into construction is an industry-wide conundrum. And, most see the profession’s use of cutting-edge technology as the answer.
Millennials are not only the most tech-savvy generation in the current workforce, they are also the most tech-dependent. And, they expect technology to be a major part of their jobs. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that investment in and use of technology was one of the top things that millennials consider when choosing which company to work for.
Construction companies that are the most willing to embrace the latest technology have the best shot at landing top millennial talent. This is more important than ever, as the median age of workers in the construction industry is 42.7, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Operating systems, automated processes, BIM, iPads, and drones are just some of technologies the construction industry has put into practice. Next in line is likely 3D printing, which experts say could be a game changer for the industry. Its widespread use could entice millennials to seek careers in construction and fuel society’s continuously growing need for instant gratification.
Technology creates efficiencies, which allow us to work smarter and usually faster. However, many believe that technology is also making us impatient.
We’ve grown accustomed to video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping (or same-day shipping in some areas). We get frustrated if websites take too long to load, and a University of Massachusetts-Amherst study found that users start abandoning YouTube videos after only two seconds if they are too slow to load.
Because millennials have grown up with technology, they may understand this need for instant gratification better than anyone. On the job hunt, they look for—and expect—companies to offer them cutting-edge tools to help them do their jobs better. In fact, nearly 70 percent of millennials say they judge their employers by their technological knowledge, according to a study by CompTIA, a nonprofit association for information technology professionals.
Along with instant gratification, studies have shown that millennials crave personalized experiences and services. When they go shopping, they’re more likely to ask a sales associate for help or use in-store services. The same holds true in other areas of their daily interactions.
In the financial sector, 90 percent of millennials say they want to visit banks during off-peak hours, and most list personalized services as a reason to change financial institutions. More than 60 percent are interested in video chatting with insurance agents about services, and 75 will schedule an appointment with an agent if they can do so online.
The technology that feeds both the need for instant gratification and personalization is 3D printing. It allows for affordable and personalized products whenever you want them. Research has shown that millennials are driving interest in 3D printing when it comes to experiences with sports leagues, video games, and entertainment companies.
As 3D printing creeps its way into the construction industry, millennials are likely to follow.
3D printing has had a variety of applications in other industries, including the medical field and product creation. So, it’s no surprise that engineering experts are touting its potential for use in construction as a way to build faster and solve workforce needs. But, some worry that 3D printing presents too much automation, which might threaten the construction workforce.
One industry expert that’s calling for construction professionals to take advantage of 3D printing is Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering and founder of Contour Crafting, a layered fabrication technology that offers the potential for automating the construction of entire structures or components of structures.
“If you look around yourself, pretty much everything is made automatically today—your shoes, your clothes, home appliances, your car… The only thing that is still built by hand are these buildings,” Khoshnevis said in a TED Talk. “Construction as we know it today is wasteful, costly, and often over budget.”
3D printing offers many potential benefits to the construction industry, including dramatically reduced supply and materials costs, the ability to create affordable housing worldwide, more opportunities for greener construction, better project planning, and clearer project outcomes.
Today’s project owners want things built quickly, and 3D printing would allow them to more clearly communicate their requirements so that everyone is on the same page. This could dramatically reduce build times and create project efficiencies.
On the project management side, construction companies could use 3D printing to create models quickly and inexpensively. Having a visual representation of the project could help avoid issues from arising and also prevent delays and budget problems.
Some examples of 3D printing’s real-life construction application include 3D printed two-story houses in China and a 3D printed office building in Dubai. The Kooky Cubby in Australia was also created with 3D printing technology. It was displayed at the 2017 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in March, where it won the Best Architectural Cubby award and sold for $20,000, contributing to the record fundraising effort for Kids Under Cover.
Though research, development, and experimentation are ongoing, 3D printing presents many innovative cost-savings and efficiency opportunities for construction companies. And, because millennials are so adept at understanding the value of new technology, companies that embrace 3D technology will likely see millennials follow.
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