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How to Win the Tech Talent War and Grow Your Backlog

Posted: March 4, 2019

What comes to mind when you think of the critical labor shortage plaguing the construction industry? People in hard hats operating jackhammers and driving backhoes? Yes, hourly craft positions are tough to fill with 80% of construction firms reporting difficulty filling these jobs, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

But the construction jobs highlighted in Indeed’s Top 25 Hot Jobs list in 2018 included tech-savvy jobs like project manager, preconstruction manager, superintendent, and estimators with average salaries ranging from $78,000 to $116,000. Whether you’re a large GC, mid-size subcontractor, or a small specialty construction firm, it’s not easy to find, hire, and retain these roles, especially if you are embracing new tech tools and methods of working.

Often, finding the right person comes down to making sure they have both field experience and are also tech-savvy. In our guide, How to Hire a Great Estimator, we explore the importance of finding the right talent and skill set for your estimating team. For example, 70% of estimators surveyed say the ability to use takeoff, estimating, and project management technology is critical for success.

Why Tech Skills Are in High Demand

It’s hard to miss the digital transformation taking root in the construction industry. Improving profitability and productivity is repeatedly linked to automation and technology—including everything from BIM to big data to 3D printing.

In fact, experts say digital tech could improve construction productivity by as much as 60%. Reducing time spent on-site is one example of how prefabrication is changing the construction industry. There are also huge gains to be had just from going paperless and integrating your accounting and estimating software.

But do these roles require a radically different skill set? No doubt, your most talented hires will be eager to get their hands-on drones, artificial intelligence, augmented reality/virtual reality, smartphone apps, tablets, and wearables.

Fostering Home-Grown Tech Talent

Sure, it’s not unusual to see as many iPads on a construction site as you see monitors in the back office. Although the construction industry has a reputation for being tech-resistant, the tech skills gap could be closing.

For example, the majority of those surveyed in the 2018 JBKnowledge ConTech Report rated themselves between an 8 (26%) and a 10 (22%) on a 10-point scale when it comes to their comfort level with implementing new technology.

Yes, younger workers entering the construction industry tend to be more tech-savvy. But contractors have also begun to realize the value of offering tech training for current workers interested in improving their tech skills.

For example, On Center customer Hoar Construction attributes its high tenure rate to its strong career training program. Named Construction Dive’s 2018 Company of the Year, Hoar has a strong focus on home-grown talent. Hoar has offered employees the chance to try out everything from bricklaying robots to developing soft skills like how to improve communication and presentation skills.

College Grads Embrace Construction Tech

While the oft-hyped fears of the graying construction industry are not unfounded, there also appears to be growing interest in construction careers at the college level. Construction trades had the largest jump in enrollment at four-year institutions between 2016 and 2017 (26.4 percent). This includes a growing interest in trades like carpentry, but also management degrees for students who like building, but not getting their hands dirty, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Millennials, who came of age in the era of smartphones and tablets, are extremely comfortable with technology and are eager to jump into a field that is literally abuzz with everything from drones to BIM. In both undergraduate and graduate programs across the United States, students are finding strong job prospects as they leave academia behind.

Because many college graduates lack field experience, some contractors are looking at reverse-mentoring. For example, Boston-based Suffolk Construction tried pairing more senior employees with young grads, who have the know-how to lead 3D scanning efforts. In exchange, the younger workers were able to learn management and strategy tips from an experienced superintendent.

Tech Allows Estimators to Wear Many Hats   

Advances in estimating technology—from software that centralizes all historical data in a single database to advanced modeling like 5D-BIM—mean that today’s estimators must wear many hats.

For example, estimators are expected to quickly answer an owner’s questions about project costs. As technology can provide a deeper understanding of costs and project options, estimators have begun to provide project timelines and suggestions for the right materials based on commodity pricing.

By using integrated tools for collaboration, accounting, and estimating, the owner can then more easily analyze historical data from previous projects and facilitate detailed conversations about framing, labor, and other issues.

With technology, the owner, estimator, designer, engineer, and others can detect problems and resolve schedule clashes in the preconstruction period. As a result, the project will cost less and be completed more quickly.

Using Tech to Grow Your Business

Construction is often slammed for being too slow to innovate and adapt to new digital tools. Today’s construction firms are realizing emerging technology can be a great hiring tool. In turn, technology can help their business be more productive and profitable.

Are you ready to start by adding digital tools? Find out what the Contractor’s Suite can do for your construction business – request a free demo now.

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