6/9/18 Will construction be human-free in the next 10 years?

 

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

For a long time, construction was one of the least automated industries around, but we’re slowly but surely catching up. Digital solutions are being used in all areas of the industry. We’re moving away from paper trails and manual building and towards online solutions, new technology and robots that can do the job for us.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. AI can be used for; speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving. The use of AI has increased massively over the last few years and has been implemented into the construction sector to bring about advancements in both productivity and health and safety.

The use of technology can improve the level of health and safety within the industry, a priority for many years, which is why I think the use of technology has finally been accepted by once hesitant employers. For example, AI technology and scanning software can track the body movement of bricklayers to analyse their form in order to reduce the amount of injuries on-site. AI also lends itself to face recognition to ensure complete safety and to authorise qualified professionals.

While AI and technology bring quicker, safer and cheaper methods to the industry, there’s also the fear that its ability to replicate human work can lead to dramatic job losses and impact the current workforce. Contradictory to that, there’s also the argument that AI and technology is helping productivity by completing tasks that are proving difficult due to the shortfall in human workers.

With the amount of AI in the industry, many have predicted a decline in human workforce and think we’ll be looking at a human-free construction force post 2025. We’re still struggling with a skills shortage, with research suggesting we need to recruit over 400,000 workers each year until 2021 to keep up with demand, that’s a lot of work, even for a robot, so an almost human-free workforce by 2025 seems near enough impossible to me. The ultimate goal is to make construction more productive, cost effective and safer. There’s no intention to completely remove the need for humans. I agree, we’re moving at a good pace when it comes to technology but personally I don’t think it will move that fast. For now, the industry as we know it still needs workers and there’s plenty of room for both AI and humans.

On 3 October, we’re delighted to be hosting the 2018 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change. The summit will focus on increasing productivity and addressing contributing factors including; leadership, innovation, industry culture, supply chains and best practice. There will be speakers from a number of organisations in the industry, including Ben Lever, Future Skills and Innovation Lead at the Construction Industry Training Board who will be further discussing the skills needs in digital-led construction.

For more information on the North East Construction Summit, please contact Leanne Conaway, on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.