Are you considering enrolling in a welding program or electrician training to prepare for a career in the construction trades? Maybe you’re already fusing the steel beams for new skyscrapers or wiring major commercial buildings.
In either case, wouldn’t you want to know about changes coming your way? High-tech gear improving safety on worksites, skilled labor shortages stalling projects and innovations that could impact how you do your job are just a few examples of construction industry trends to watch this year.
4 Construction Industry Shifts to Watch in 2019
1. Digitally Connected Cities
Today’s cities can be considered growth engines for modern economies and societies, except for one major setback: many aren’t that modern.
In fact, some are even falling apart. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the nation’s infrastructure a D+, and it wasn’t the first time. Structures that support the very movement underpinning a thriving metropolis—bridges, roads and transit—received a C+, D, and D-, respectively.
While crumbling infrastructure can be a problem for city dwellers, it presents a huge opportunity for the construction industry—one that just might be realized in the near future thanks to public works projects the U.S. government has promised.
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Engineering and construction companies are not only ready for these projects, but they also have their sights set on advancing “connected infrastructure” initiatives already underway in cities across the globe.
Welcome Smart Cities 1.0 and the projected $158 billion creating them could infuse into the construction and engineering industries by 2022. Just imagine how the Internet of Things (IoT) could connect roads, highways and residential and commercial buildings, optimizing processes through artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics.
2. Lean, Green Building
You hear about how automation is making the manufacturing industry more productive all the time, but what about construction? Why isn’t this sector making news headlines too?
Well, it’s among the least productive segments of industry. Compared to global manufacturing, which has increased productivity at a rate of 3.6 percent a year over the last twenty, construction has averaged only 1 percent growth, reports a study by McKinsey & Company.
Expect that to improve as contractors incorporate leaner practices and automation to boost productivity. Two approaches to cutting down on excess materials and processing are using prefabricated materials and just-in-time deliveries that better align with project schedules.
Surveys indicate these new methods are working. Of contractors who participated in a recent McGraw Hill Construction survey, 84 percent said transitioning away from traditional approaches resulted in higher quality projects, 77 percent reported improved productivity and 77 percent saw greater safety on job sites.
Not only are contractors looking for ways to reduce waste, but they’re also increasingly adopting green practices and technologies to lessen their impact on the environment. The trend, which has been around for several years, is known as green construction.
Currently, the construction industry is responsible for about 20 percent of carbon emissions globally. Through resource-efficient and environmentally friendly approaches, green construction firms aim to reduce this number.
Among the innovations fueling green construction are bricks made of recycled cigarette butts, building fronts that remove carbon, self-healing asphalt and thermally-driven air conditioners.
3. Smart Safety Equipment
With smartphones, smart homes and now smart safety gear, it’s clear connectivity is the future. Wearable technologies aren’t new, but now construction workers are getting in on the trend with Wi-Fi enabled work boots that can send their GPS coordinates and even alert foremen if they’re tired or, worse, have fallen.
Other safety technologies that have improved are cooling vests and clothing with moisture-wicking fabric. Construction workers can now enjoy lighter and more effective options.
Outside of what workers wear, they can also count on some backup from drones surveying construction sites for hazards.
4. Skilled Trades Shortage
You may have heard about the skilled trades shortage in manufacturing, where an estimated 2.4 million positions could be left unfilled by 2028, according to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.
The construction industry is not immune to the problem, either. Currently, the sector employs the highest level of workers, 7.2 million, since the Great Recession of 2008. Since 2014, the number of job openings has nearly doubled, but the number of hires has risen by just 14 percent, reports Deloitte.
This has the potential to be a major problem for engineering and construction companies: they could lose project bids and innovation might stagnate. Cities in need of repair to old infrastructure or new builds could also suffer from the shortage.
Workers, however, could stand to benefit from the problem. Not only could it mean job opportunities and security, but also potentially higher wages and benefits. Then, of course, there are the savings on education, because many positions don’t require college.
Construction trades can generally be entered after technical training, apprenticeship or a combination or both.
Change Brings Opportunity to Construction Workers in 2019
Many of the trends in the construction industry this year could be good for workers. Infrastructure projects and the skilled labor shortage might mean more jobs and better pay. Smart safety equipment may result in greater protection on the job. Lastly, leaner, greener building practices could give workers the satisfaction of doing their part for the environment.
While these are the national construction trends, the state of construction can vary across individual states. Check out recent events in California in construction.