What is ahead for us in the future?
Are robots the future for the construction industry?
Our working world is continuously changing, and advances in technology are rapidly replacing human skills. But what does this mean for the construction industry? Are we all about to be replaced by a steal box of buzzes and clicks? How future-proof are your skills? If you haven’t already seen the videos of 3D printed houses, they are worth a google, for us, it’s both mind-blowing and mildly terrifying where we are heading. Robots and their job stealing antics have been in the news a lot lately which sparked our interest in how things will go for the construction industry.
A recent study in the US by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) estimates that by 2057 robots could replace 2.7 million jobs in construction in the US alone.
Some occupations in construction have a higher potential for automation like operating engineers which has an 88% potential for automation. This is mostly due to the interest in self-driving cars and long-haul vehicles. Autonomous heavy equipment already exists, and the technology is similar to self-driving cars and is currently in use to perform excavation, grading and site work. Equipment manufacturers like Komatsu, CAT, Volvo CE and others are investing heavily in research and development to perfect the technology and bring it to market.
Other occupations have a smaller potential for automation like roofers (31%), construction labourers (35%) and sheet metal workers (39%). Part of the reason is that it’s not technically feasible to replicate certain tasks using robots and that much of the physical work done in construction is done in an unpredictable and ever-changing environment.
So, are robots coming to steal our construction jobs? For starters, there’s already a labour shortage in the country, with hundreds of skilled labour having left during the recession. Also for better or worse, the construction industry, as a whole, is notoriously slow at adopting new technology, which might impede the advancement of robots making their way onto construction sites. Admittedly the robot revolution is still in its infancy, so we at Sherlock believe that it’s going to take some time before we see robots making a significant impact on the construction industry.
The more likely scenario is that a small number of jobs and occupations may be eliminated or replaced by robot workers. With the majority of jobs remaining with humans, probably working in conjunction with robots performing more of the repetitive and laborious tasks, allowing workers to be more productive and efficient by focusing on the highly-skilled tasks of their job.
It seems to us at Sherlock that there will still be a need for finding the person for the job onsite and humans will continue to take the priority over a machine for a while yet. But what the new robot age doesn’t mean is that workers need to constantly improve themselves and skillset to make sure they can’t be replaced.
As construction projects become increasingly more complex, robots and AI software will make it easier to keep projects on schedule and within budget by improving human efficiency and productivity, which in turn will allow construction companies to take on more work and increase headcount.