If you were with me yesterday, you’ll know I’m writing about the increasing importance of Contech. Today, I want to look at what’s happening in other countries, notably the United States. Given that many technological developments start in the US before being adopted in the UK, this is especially pertinent to our industry in 2020.
Crossing the pond, I find Forbes magazine now extolling the virtues of ConTech and describing how “after an eternity spent behind the innovation curve, the construction industry is starting to warm up to the benefits of technology.” More specifically, an FMI industry report sponsored by ConTech unicorn Procore, last year is extremely interesting. There were 738 study participants in this study, most of them contractors from the US (42%) UK (22%), Australia & New Zealand (21%), and Canada (15%).
Use of new technology is often forced upon industries due to pressures elsewhere; in particular when shortages of skilled labour and declining productivity mean that employers look to solutions that reduce or remove ongoing risk and help them secure and deliver contracts.
The construction industry is changing, with projects becoming ever more complex whilst delivery times speed up. At the same time, there is an inherent skills shortage in the US, with 89% of firms in 2017 stating this was a problem for them, up from 53% in 2013. Also like the UK, the pool of construction workers of all types is ageing and contracting and it’s difficult to persuade a lot of young people to come into the industry. Moreover, again like the UK, the US has the rapidly growing problems of baby boomers retiring now and over the next decade.
Consequently, when asked to rank their principal worries for the industry, this study found that No. 1 was safety, followed by the problems of attracting and, equally importantly, retaining the skilled personnel they need. Associated with the scarcity of talent is the continuing issue of productivity. It’s not difficult to see where the potential exists for tech companies to design and sell solutions for the construction industry. Safety, in particular, is an area where technology can make a major impact, whether it’s drones or increased use of data around the ways in which workers interact and spend their days on building sites.
According to the Procore study, a majority of the companies responding to the survey already have formal software programmes for things like project financials, project management, and safety or risk management. On the other side of the coin, less than half of them have got the technology they want/need for equipment management and trades/labour management on-site. In addition, less than a quarter of the firms surveyed are using technology to enable them to attract and retain skilled people at every level.
This again shows where there are openings for Contech firms and indeed for savvy construction recruiters who realise that technology can help them become more efficient. IT start-ups tend not to be associated with construction, or indeed recruitment, possibly, I suspect, because neither are perceived of as sexy, but and I do expect to see far more development of partnerships between IT start-ups and construction/recruitment in the near future as the former realise that this is a less cluttered area with the potential to make some decent money. Indeed, our own venture into this area, via our new, customer and candidate weviewed software is a prime example of this. ConTech has the potential to transform the ways of the traditional world of construction and those who are first to market with genuinely innovative products that add value and deliver quality have a real opportunity to prosper.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment