Construction's workforce challenges aren't new, and most of us are acutely aware of the industry's labor shortage. This issue—which is already urgent—grows even more critical with each passing year.
The clock is ticking as the age demographics of construction workers skew older. Data from Zippia shows that nearly half (47%) of construction professionals are over 40 years old, and 26% are between 30-40. Just a quarter (25%) of the workforce are between 20-30 years old.
What does this mean for the future of construction? More importantly, how are we engaging the younger generation to take the reins? Join us as we dive into this challenge and explore the strategies we can implement to ignite a passion in students and young industry professionals.
Evan Reilly, Senior Emerging Technology Engineer at Skanska, and Fope Bademosi, Circular Economy and Construction Researcher at Autodesk Research, join us to share what they're doing to get young people excited about construction.
Evan and Fope have extensive experience teaching and presenting to students. In this episode they share interesting (and, in many ways, surprising) insights into how youth view the construction sector and how we can encourage them to join the fold.
Another cool thing about this episode was that it was filmed in the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston. As part of Autodesk Research, the Autodesk Technology Centers catalyze new possibilities for making through the power of connection and a global network of innovators. Whether it’s exploring ideas on the future of design or testing new methods of production, these centers are a connection engine where teams can combine cross-industry expertise with hands-on construction and fabrication.
Both Evan and Fope have work and projects connected to the Technology Center in Boston. As a researcher, part of Fope’s role is to collaborate with industry partners and customers to help them improve processes and ways of working. Through her work, she frequently collaborates with supervisors and residents in these spaces. Evan, on the other hand, joined the Autodesk Technology Centers Outsight Network as a resident to test Skanska’s use of Spot, the robot dog from Boston Dynamics, in a controlled environment. You can learn even more about this initiative in Episode 47 of our podcast.
As with any industry, construction has its fair share of misconceptions. In some cases, people don't realize how untrue these myths are until they've worked in the industry.
Evan, for instance, used to think that the construction sector was resistant to new ideas, which isn't the case. "Even though we're a risk-averse industry, there is a willingness to try new things, to hear people out, and to experiment."
He adds, "Coming out of school, I used to think all of the creative, innovative ideas originated from an innovation group. Now, I've come to understand that those ideas come from our project teams. They come from operations and the people closest to the work."
So, why do these misconceptions persist? As it turns out, there are several reasons.
Fope states, "There are concerns about cost and how implementing some of these things could initially be expensive. They don't want to touch that at all." There are also concerns about complex initiatives. "But innovation doesn't have to be complex. You can start small by fixing that one problem that someone has on site."
Sometimes, misconceptions exist because people don't have enough knowledge to challenge them.
That's why a lot of Fope's work is in improving "education and awareness."
"We're trying to provide information about what's out there. This can lead to more curiosity and help them get more training in the field.”
Evan, for his part, says many misconceptions stem from an outdated view of the construction industry. "Most people think it's old school. They think we haven't changed how we build buildings."
"I also think that there is this misconception that innovation at a construction company has to be BIM and VDC. But over the last seven years that I've been part of the industry, a new space has opened up for folks interested in deploying and evaluating technology that has nothing to do with the digital model."
Changing outdated or negative perceptions about the construction field starts by shifting our industry's narrative.
As Evan puts it, we can "do a better job of storytelling. We can start to highlight successful implementations on projects and the diverse career paths of employees."
Fope agrees. "From the individual perspective, sharing your story and experience is important, especially to the younger generation. Change that narrative of what construction really looks like and promote it in a positive lens."
When it comes to filling the talent pipeline, Evan and Fope highlight the need to engage students.
"We can focus on higher education and getting young people and students excited about careers in construction," remarks Evan.
"I like to emphasize collaboration between industry and academia," adds Fope.
She says that developing relevant curriculum frameworks is essential to ensure students have the skills they need when they graduate.
"It's also important to foster research from the education level. Having faculty and students working on solutions with an industry partner willing to help develop and implement those ideas on-site can bridge the gap between research and academia."
What gets young people amped up about construction?
According to Evan and Fope, most students love seeing real-life examples and implementations of construction tech and innovation.
"They get excited about seeing practical use cases of BIM," shares Evan. "Beyond just seeing flashy screenshots of the model versus what was installed, students like hearing real stories about how crises on projects were averted."
Fope agrees and adds that "students get excited when you show or present examples of local significant construction projects they could go to, as this enables them to visualize the impact of the work they could do.”
In addition, Fope points out that students today have more awareness of environmental issues, so they're interested in learning about sustainable construction.
"They always have questions related to how construction contributes to the environment and how we tackle climate change. I also get lots of questions about sustainable materials or processes that lower our carbon footprint. And I think that's impressive from that generation."
Going back to the topic of breaking down construction misconceptions, Evan says students are surprised to discover the many career paths they can take within AEC.
"Many students are surprised to learn that there are various alternative career paths in construction. You don't need to follow this conventional path that goes through project management or becoming a site superintendent," he says.
Meanwhile, Fope observes that students are also surprised at the industry's growing initiatives around diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion.
"People still see it as a white male-dominated industry. I keep saying it's important we share our stories and our experiences because students don't really see that. And sometimes, some of that isn't evident through academia until they get into an internship or a company."
Fope continues, "I think that's one thing we definitely need to do better. It's about sharing our experiences and stories and showing them how diverse construction actually is."
Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. If you're keen on getting more students and young folks into construction and want to learn practical ways to do it, this episode is for you.
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