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Technology: The Third Era of Construction

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Do more with less. It’s a common mantra in almost every industry. On the surface, one might think it implies more work and longer hours for employees. Perhaps a more apropos (and palatable) adage for busy employees is, “work smarter, not harder.” Athena Chiera, VP Business Development, Athena Engineering, and Mike Winters, EVP & CIO, Modern Niagra, believe we can achieve this through technology. 

Throughout their Q&A session at Procore’s annual Groundbreak 2019 construction conference, it all boiled down to two main issues—a shortage of skilled workers and the multitude of siloed point solutions that muddy the informational waters. The proposed answer to these pain-points? Technology.

A Skilled Workforce

Athena and Mike cited a number of challenges resulting from a shortage of skilled labor caused by employees retiring out of the workforce and dropping apprenticeship rates. Margins are increasing, schedules are accelerating, and clients are starting to worry about their budgets. Worst-case scenario? We may even be forced to turn down a project. The question is, how do we attract and retain the next generation of builders?

Athena and Mike both agreed that we need to blaze a new trail, one that involves the union of technology and construction. By shattering the age-old perception of construction, we can show the next generation that the industry offers a myriad of career opportunities that not only involve working with your hands in the field but also leveraging cutting-edge technology. 

We’re going to start seeing a lot of information-based solutions in companies that will disrupt the construction industry. And that will be a good thing. – Mike Winters

Technology is part of our everyday lives. Case in point; we live in a mobile world where a dizzying array of information is available at our fingertips, and it’s created a culture of immediate gratification. Why not harness that in the construction industry? Mike believes that the next generation of builders will reshape the industry and that they’ll do it through information-based solutions like integrated billing and project management platforms. 

Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Talent

So how do we attract new talent? Building relationships with local unions is one way to find skilled labor. However, Athena and Mike suggest new venues for recruiting, such as colleges and universities. Their reasoning? As the construction industry evolves, the new paradigm requires not only skilled tradespeople, but also IT folks, engineers, communicators and the like.

The next step is retaining those new employees—keeping them engaged—and both Athena and Mike believe development is the key. 

For new employees at Athena Engineering, a year in the field is compulsory. Athena asserts this type of cross-training affords a greater connection between the folks in the office and workers in the field. It provides them with a deep sense of empathy that goes a long way in addressing the needs of different types of employees. Mike added that good communication and gathering feedback from employees and then acting on those insights, is also essential.

Technology is the Way Forward

With the advent of new technologies, many tech-savvy construction companies have adopted a variety of point solutions. However, without integration, we’re entering the same information into multiple systems, duplicating work, and creating an environment ripe for errors. If a shortage of skilled labor is a major pain point for the industry, how can we leverage technology to more effectively run a lean business? 

Despite the fact that Athena Engineering, a specialty contractor, and Modern Niagra, an Enterprise organization, are distinctly different types of companies, both Athena and Mike faced the same problems. With data spread across multiple systems, such as email, notepads, document management systems, Microsoft Excel, multiple servers, in-house databases, isolated solutions for financials and project management—all of which couldn’t make it to the job site—they found their different departments work in silos. They were unable to achieve a seamless flow of information. How do you collate it all when there’s just too much noise in too many places?

For Athena Engineering, launching Procore allowed the company to eliminate nearly all of their siloed point solutions and replace them with a single platform. 

“Timesheets were our biggest pain-point,” said Athena. “With Procore, we put all our data in a single system and now can leverage that data to make more informed decisions.”

Taking a 12-step process and turning it into 4 steps—that’s innovation. – Athena Chiera

The Way Forward

Mike also firmly believes that the fewer the systems we employ, the better. Once Modern Niagra went all-in with Procore, the back office teams suddenly had more bandwidth. They no longer had to deal with paper and fax machines, data corrections, transferring data, etc. 

“Now that we’ve gone mobile, data is available on the jobsite in real-time, which is drastically speeding up construction and reducing the friction,” Mike said.

Putting information into the hands of our people helps us streamline—get the right people to the right job at the right time. – Mike Winters

Athena and Mike both agree technology is the way forward. Their only caveat is that we are builders, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that everything we build is touched by human hands. In essence, we’re on the precipice of the third era of construction, tying technology into building something beautiful. 

If you liked this article, here are a few eBookswebinars, and case studies you may enjoy:

Technology Chargeback in the Construction Industry

Implementing Technologies as a Subcontractor

Scott Construction Study

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