The construction industry is a pillar of any region’s economy and is interrelated in some way with virtually all sectors. It is truly an essential industry and has been designated as such in many jurisdictions. Although safety protocols are nothing new for construction companies, COVID-19 presents a new form of danger and new safety procedures have been implemented in response. Not unlike other industries, construction is utilizing technology in the battle against the novel coronavirus. The digital approach mirrors the broader trend that has seen technology play an increasingly large role in many aspects of construction. If this period is one of technological advancement in the industry, it may help pique the interest of potential young recruits.
“Since the pandemic started, the construction industry has been on the frontlines,” reports Construct Connect. “Declared in most jurisdictions as an essential service, thousands of men and women have worked day in and day out at construction sites across Canada to keep our economy alive.”1
This falls in line with observations Goldbeck has gained through speaking with companies and employees from across the industry. While some projects have been put on hold, particularly those that were in their initial stages as COVID-19 emerged, the industry remains strong overall.
High Tech and Low Tech Safety Measures
While projects may be moving ahead, they are not immune from the impacts of COVID-19. Like everybody else, construction crews have had to implement safety procedures to help ‘flatten the curve’.
Many of these measures involve a good old fashioned combination of sanitation, bureaucracy and common sense. The two meter social distancing guideline is certainly in effect; those who simply cannot comply are utilizing gloves, masks and hand sanitizer to decrease their risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Like other industries, construction has rethought work procedures, taking care to separate workstations, reduce the sharing of tools and minimize personal interaction. In this regard the industry, with its history of safety meetings, updates and protocols, has been well positioned to adapt.
The fight against COVID-19, however, is not limited to soap, water and six feet of personal space. Integrated real-time resource management apps allow for larger companies to share critical employee health data and isolate employees appropriately.
Although technology has allowed for the digital sharing of field data in recent years, many companies have stuck with the physical transfer of paper files. The current crisis sees many administrative staff members working from home offices, presenting an opportunity to update these processes.
“By implementing real-time resource management solutions such as cloud-based labor tracking, field reporting, project tracking and system integration, managers ensure that key business functions needed to keep the wheels turning can seamlessly be performed from remote locations,” writes Ryan Remkes for For Construction Pros.2
Project management can also be managed remotely in many cases. Increasingly user-friendly applications allow for the sharing of photos and videos, making remote collaboration more practical than ever. Meetings can be conducted through the various video conferencing platforms currently being utilized by a wide array of white collar execs, blue collar professionals and grandparents who miss their grandchildren.
Recruitment Benefits of Tech in Construction
If the adoption of technology serves the immediate purpose of helping companies navigate the treacheries of the COVID-19 pandemic, its continued utilization serves the additional purpose of attracting young workers to the industry.
“Companies thinking about new ways to attract that potential workforce are already revising their training, apprenticeship and recruitment initiatives, to align with new technologies and changes in the industry,” reports RemineNetwork. “Modifying recruitment strategies include turning to tools like social media and influencers to connect with millennials, and revising job postings to focus on technology and the new skills required for careers in the industry.”3
The list of ways that increasing technology can be utilized extends far beyond the current crisis. Maintenance schedules, earthworks, site surveying, remote monitoring and wearable technology are just a few of the areas that will be of interest to the digital natives currently coming of age.
There is a growing awareness that those same technology tools that are helping companies keep costs down, operate more effectively and gain an advantage over the competition, can also help make the industry more attractive to the younger generation.3
In the short term, safety is the name of the game. Many candidates and clients have told me about increased precautions and safety measures being used to protect those at construction sites. A possible silver lining in the current storm could be permanent increases in health and safety measures, making the industry safer on an ongoing basis.