Engineers are struggling to fill positions in construction and maintenance engineering, the largest job category in the construction industry, with some predicting that as many as 50,000 jobs could be lost to automation in the next few years.
The industry, however, is in its infancy, with a shortage of qualified candidates and an increase in demand for workers who can handle automation.
“We’re in an era where we’re seeing more and more automation, especially in the building trades, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that jobs are going to be lost in construction,” said Michael J. Loepple, a principal at Loeppe & Co. in Chicago.
“I don’t think that the industry is in a recession right now, but there are going be many more openings for workers.”
There are a number of reasons why the industry may not be in a downturn.
One is that technology companies such as Apple and Amazon are investing heavily in automation, making it possible for the jobs in engineering to be automated as well.
“The more technology is used to automate the construction process, the more the demand for skilled construction workers is going to go up,” said Loeppel.
“There’s going to continue to be demand for a variety of skilled construction labor, and that demand will continue to grow over time.”
In addition, more workers are retiring than entering the workforce, and there is a lot of turnover.
“With more and better-educated workers retiring, the workforce is going through a huge turnover,” said John P. Cone, chief executive of The Architects Group in Santa Monica, California.
“It’s hard to retain people who are retired or who are on their last legs, especially if you have a high turnover rate.”
Cone added that there are also many vacancies in engineering.
“You don’t want to hire someone who’s not going to want to work for you,” he said.
“We’re seeing engineers with little-to-no experience who’ve never been in the industry before.
They have little- to-no skill sets.”
The construction industry also faces some challenges from its reliance on automation.
Loomis & Gorman, a construction firm, recently said it would automate about 80 percent of its construction tasks by 2025.
LEO Group, a contractor, also has said it will automate about 70 percent of the work it does by 2025 and is working to automate all of its operations by 2021.
While automation is a promising development, the industry faces many other challenges, including the aging population, a declining workforce, a changing workforce, high energy costs and increased competition from technology companies.
“One of the biggest challenges for the construction industries is that we have a population that’s getting older, a decreasing workforce, an increasing cost of living, a growing energy cost, and competition from companies who are coming into the sector,” said Cone.
“That’s a problem.”
But there are other potential jobs in the field that will be created by automation.
“When you start looking at the data, you realize that the workforce that we’re looking at now is just an estimated 60 percent of what it will be in the future,” said J.J. O’Connor, a senior vice president at Loominis &.
“So we are getting more people with little education and no experience.
We’re going to see a lot more people entering the field, and you’re going’t necessarily see the same number of jobs.”
Crowding, high rents and a decline in the size of companies in the market will also continue to hurt the industry, said Cones.
“Construction is the largest source of jobs in this country.
If the workforce doesn’t grow, you’re not going see that kind of job growth.”
To help companies compete with new companies, some companies are turning to automation to fill existing roles.
The Boston Consulting Group has developed a tool that lets companies quickly identify the best people to replace existing jobs.
Other companies are hiring employees for jobs that require technical skills such as data entry or cybersecurity.
And some companies have created jobs that pay $10 to $20 an hour.
Some firms are even looking to automate some of their jobs.
“What I think we need to focus on is, what are the skills that we don’t have and how can we use technology to find those skills?” said Loomisi &.; Gorman’s Loeppa.
“If we can automate those, then that will lead to an even more competitive environment for our industry.”