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Construction to benefit from AI (71% increase in profits by 2035?)

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A report last year by Accenture estimated the impact of AI on various sectors of the economy by the year 2035.  Unsurprisingly, “information and communication” was top, with a predicted annual growth of 4.8%, with “Education” at the other end of the scale with growth of only 1.6%. Construction, which is obviously our area of interest, came about halfway up the table, with expected annual growth of 3.4% and an increase in industry output of 3.3% per annum.  Over and above this, Accenture estimated that the share of estimated profit increase in construction due to AI would be 71%.

It’s now a year since this report was published. In order for firms to make the most of AI, Accenture recommended that an understanding of the benefits must come from the very top of business and also that responsibility for managing human-machine interaction would devolve to the HR function. The creation of an open AI culture was also perceived to be essential, as was training existing staff to adapt.  

That’s all very well for, say, “information and communication” companies, but I suspect it’s a bit of a taller order for construction firms. After all, 2035 is a long way away, especially if you are a senior executive in your 50s.  However, the growth of AI is such that it’s going to be with us sooner than many (would like to) think.  A recent supplement on AI in The Times newspaper noted that “worldwide spending on cognitive systems is expected to mushroom to about $19billion this year, an incredible 54% jump on 2017.” Admittedly, this increase is far more likely to be in the tech industries rather than construction and the general consensus is that ours is not an industry ahead of the curve.  An articleby McKinsey in the USA, from April this year, starts from exactly this point, but goes on to say, “a shift is coming.”  

This “shift” is partly going to be in response to other industries (manufacturing and transport in particular) adopting AI and thus opening the market to AI experts who see a value in adapting their models to work across different, but related, sectors.  

Furthermore, the McKinsey report identifies three areas where AI will start to make an impact.  These are: project delivery, where algorithms can consider millions of alternatives for project scheduling and advise on the most efficient; video data from sites which can be aggregated to identify unsafe working practices and thus help employers create better training and health and safety cultures; and the collection and analysis of data from sensors to help identify patterns and signals, thus leading to better real-time solutions, reduced costs, preventative maintenance and reductions in unplanned downtime.

From within the AI world, construction is also being targeted as an area for development. Artificial Intelligence News, an online publication, has also recently considered construction (writing in March this year) and, while noting that the emphasis has been on the obvious areas of saving, such as bricklaying robots, they identify four areas where our world will change.  These are: planning; administration; methodology; and post-construction. 

As I have written previously, I don’t think these developments will affect most firms for some time yet, but ironically, it’s our industry of construction recruitment that may be the driving force behind the changes that will undoubtedly come.  Again, as discussed on our blog page in the last year, there are skill shortages in some key areas of construction and property recruitment and where companies can’t get the talent they need they will, naturally, seek alternatives.  The introduction of AI technology that can survey a construction site, collating the necessary information to then produce 3D maps, blueprints and the associated construction plans will clearly become more attractive in the future. There is no point in the recruitment industry, whether in construction or other sectors, burying its head in the sand and hoping this is going away. The future, in our industry as much as in construction, will be ever more dependent on having the best tech, AI and, at the end of the day, people.  Because ultimately, unless we really do become slaves to technology, it’s the people who will be responsible for the machines.

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment

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