The talent shortage in architecture and engineering is huge. As noted by the World Economic Forum, the ongoing shortage of labour, including a shortage of professional talent for designers, architects, and higher levels of management, has “undermined project management and execution, adversely affecting cost, timelines and quality.”
Ultimately, time is money – and the lack of available, skilled workers and professionals is one of the biggest reasons for stagnating productivity and rising construction costs, with some reports estimating cost increases of 30 percent year-on-year.
This is a frustrating status quo for companies in the industry because this does not need to be the working reality, specifically when it comes to engineering and architecture. In fact, there are skilled engineers and architects with transferable skills all over the globe – but therein lies the problem. The workers are there, yet spread over countries. Globalization through digitized, connected systems could be the answer for construction’s productivity problem – but it remains to be seen how willing and able companies are to such an international, digital solution.
Working scenario in the construction industry
Hiring practices are yet to shift significantly in construction. The process to onboard engineers and architects and staff projects remain more or less the same as previous decades, with managers preferring personal networks and word-of-mouth to acquire talent. These methods do work well to source from local talent pools, however, fail to unlock national or international workers who can work remotely.
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This is a problem when projects need to be completed yet architects or engineering designers are scarce. Further, this is exacerbated by the fact that construction remains one of the least digitized industries on the planet, making for a system which is not optimized for employment efficiencies. According to a digitization index by MGI, the industry lags behind its contemporaries in tech uptake, with construction coming in second last and last place respectively in the U.S. and European lists.
This lack of digital development impacts upon the entire industry’s productivity. For example, annual global labour productivity growth in construction has averaged one percent over the past two decades. Consider this number in tandem with the growth of the total world economy (2.8 percent) and the manufacturing sector (3.6 percent) over the same period. The industry has lagged – and continues to lag – behind other industry benchmarks. Clearly, core changes are needed to modernize how construction companies operate and hire.
Digitisation and remote work in construction
Freelancing is already taking the world by storm – with more than half of all U.S. workers predicted to go freelance within the next decade – and one can predict this trend to influence engineering and architecture hires going forward. This marks a shift from the way engineering professionals have been hired in the past – where companies have focused mostly on local talent for local projects. However, this method takes full advantage of the fact that most architects and engineers work project to project and have geographically transferable skills.
Getting to this point will require a paradigm shift, but the transition should be assisted by the clear benefits such hiring processes offer. For example, hiring globally instead of locally would unlock entire workforces with both employers and employees available to pick and choose working conditions and commit accordingly. The arrival of the gig economy to construction means the removal of talent-management overheads, savings on recruitment cost and time, and human resource processes. It affords professionals and companies the freedom to pick and choose the jobs they want.
Moreover, the construction site itself may soon take a dose of digitization and remote work tools that optimize monitoring and reporting of progress, and construction tech startups are leading the way. Drones, monitoring equipment, and project management software that links the site’s progress to the office means that engineers will be able to monitor work from anywhere, and be virtually present on site. This breaks down another barrier of localization and enables a construction engineer in another state or country to supervise construction.
The future of workforce dynamics in construction
So, what is stopping this from happening? The biggest hurdle to overcome remains the industry’s lack of digitization. Taking workers and processes online simply will not happen if construction does not embrace some kind of digital revolution. The fact that the same industry which creates megastructures and undersea tunnels remains largely analog beggars belief. Therefore, for this improved, efficient, and cost-effective future to occur, the industry must first review its processes and analyze where digital progression should take place.
This requires a willing and able mindset – but that’s easier said than done. Construction is one of the most traditional industries in the world and ingrained attitudes and ideas are tough to dislodge. Management teams and company heads will need to be flexible and teachable if they are going to change and relearn entire processes.
However, change is always easier to implement when the potential results are backed up by data – and the data clearly shows that efficiencies will result from digitization and globalization. Yes, talent shortage is prevalent in the U.S. and most western countries, but on a global level, the talent is clearly there for the picking. It just needs better access.