To say today’s construction landscape is evolving is an understatement. Construction used to entail stacks of blueprints, markups with post-it notes, and who can forget Excel.
But that world is slowing becoming extinct. And in this particular instance, extinction is a good thing. There’s enough change underway to predict the next generation of builders will operate in a vastly different environment with automated software workflows, electronic contract signatures, drones managing remote jobsites, and tablets and smartphones swarming the jobsite. Paper on the jobsite will soon be an unloved remnant of the past.
But as these project management processes evolve, so too must the construction professional.
According to Richard E. Mayo, PH.D., P.E. in his paper Defining a Construction Education Research Agenda, “Technology is now the engine of change for the industry.” And, even though he writes about college level education, everyone in the industry is affected by those changes. He outlines nine changes that will define the construction environment of the future, and ultimately, how they will affect what professionals must learn.
A changed built environment where there are more standardized structures and building in nontraditional places
A changed design process with most construction companies having design and engineering under the same roof
A changed contractor selection process where the bid is no longer the determiner of who gets the job
Changed construction materials ranging from 100,000 psi concrete to composites and reinforced polymers
Changed contract administration with automatic work progress monitoring, and payments in real time
A changed labor picture with unions and management partnering in recruiting and training
A changed price structure where value to the customer and quality determines price
A changed procurement process where constructors source from across the globe
A changed view of infrastructure where repair and rehabilitation are more prominent than new construction
Education is Key
If anything close to the future world Mayo describes comes to pass, construction education for the next generation of builders will need to adapt to the new realities. On-the-spot instruction via electronic devices, e-learning, simulation training, and learning within virtual reality environments could become commonplace. The international influences on construction businesses also mean employee’s need advanced training in cultural awareness, language, and the laws covering construction in other locales. With a vast array of learning opportunities available to the next generation of construction workers, lifelong learning will be the new norm for people who want to advance their careers.
To really reap the rewards from all the changes, a disjointed and fragmented industry approach to training will need to give way to a coherent, unified effort. The picture is one where the industry becomes a partner in the educational success of the future generation of builders. The roles would include supporting them through access to technology, piloting new tech, and maintaining an educational environment that delivers training at the time and place it’s needed. In a new construction world where technology inspires change, the future builders will need every training advantage that governments and the industry can muster.
What’s Happening Now?
The American Council for Construction Education helps focus the educational efforts for construction through accreditation programs and research. Industry associations like the Associated General Contractors of America, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and labor unions also help with the industry’s training needs. Meanwhile, states have their own colleges and initiatives for workforce training which often draw on federal programs.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed in July 2014, was termed the “most significant reform of federal job training programs in more than 15 years.” While the law’s complexity has caused problems rolling it out across the country, early adopters are moving forward with programs for the construction workforce.
The Alaska Military Youth Academy received funding from the program to train 52 cadets in carpentry, electrical, welding, and ironwork.
New Mexico authorized $12 million under its implementation of the Act to solve employment issues including training for construction foremen and heavy equipment operators.
Easter Seals Tristate, an Ohio-based organization with 72 nonprofits in 32 states, is using a $1 million grant under WIOA to train young people in construction and the trades.
Iowa Workforce Development under WIOA, expanded the scope of its Iowa Construction Trades Apprenticeship Job Driven National Emergency Grant to include its 15 Workforce Investment Act regions, and all 152 apprenticeship trades in the state.
An American Technical Training Fund to provide grants supporting evidence-based, tuition free, job training programs for high-demand fields
A $2 billion Apprenticeship Training Fund to help more workers get job-relevant skills
Funding of $3 billion to set up more than 50 Talent Hotspots across the country to help recruit and train the workforce for local businesses
Investment of $5.5 billion to help over a million young people get work experience, skills, and develop networks that come from having a first job
$3 billion for WIOA grants to bring together employers, education and training providers, and workforce boards to train 0.5 million people and place them in jobs in high demand sectors