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Greater skills development needed to ready construction for new tech

Greater skills development needed to ready construction for new tech

An opinion piece by Josine Heijmans, Vice President - Construction at dmg events

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Construction’s readiness to implement new technology is challenged by a shortfall in workforce skills

The right training and skills are essential to creating a well-equipped workforce.

I know this sounds like a truism, but research we conducted last year for our Voice of the Construction Industry report and published at The Big 5 in November, put the value of technology training into a stark context.

Respondents to our survey, 5,000+ industry professionals in some of the Middle East’s most active construction markets, recognised that technology is bringing change to the construction industry. They pinpointed the likes of advanced software, BIM, digitisation, smart technologies, 3D-printing and artificial intelligence as all set to have a big impact.

Tellingly though, in both private and public sectors, readiness to implement these technologies is limited. Even with BIM – the most talked about construction technology of the last decade – previously unpublished figures show just 17.3% of our private sector respondents describing their teams as fully trained and ready to implement. This fell to just 5.4% of our respondents in the public sector.

For newer technologies the figures were lower still, with readiness for headline grabbers such as 3D-printing and artificial intelligence among private sector respondents at 14.6% and 8.6% respectively.

As these technologies take hold in the construction industry, demand for professionals with a strong grasp of how to apply them will grow. But despite their looming influence on the project environment, our research clearly shows there is a long way to go to prep the industry to take advantage of these technologies.

Bridging the current gap between potential impact and operational readiness will take a significant up-skilling of the workforce. Across the region construction businesses already recognise finding skilled labour as a key challenge, one felt most acutely in the larger markets of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This leaves companies either competing to recruit the finite number of professionals with the skills they need, or investing in the people they already have through training.

In the UAE, the government’s drive to build a knowledge economy has seen it tackle new technologies head on, welcoming their practical application in diverse industries. It is also investing in building the employable skills of its citizens. The National Employment Strategy 2031 cites promoting lifelong learning programmes and training for future skills as two of its key pillars, while the UAE also offers AI internships to encourage nationals to gain foundational skills in this emerging area.

But for most private sector organisations working in the construction industry the biggest barriers to training will be the time away from operational work, plus costs. Even as a gradual increase in the availability of online training is allowing larger organisations to achieve a greater scale of training at lower cost, one of the most time consuming aspects of training staff – building or sourcing the right kind of content – remains.

For construction companies in the MEASA region there is support at hand. Through our conversations with industry stakeholders The Big 5 has seen the demand for training from companies within the industry and responded by offering continuous professional development programmes (CPD), at scale. In 2019 it hosted 240 education sessions over the four days of The Big 5 in Dubai, each one CPD certified and free to attend

for all registered visitors. The comprehensive education programme gives attendees a chance to learn new skills, or enhance established ones, while offering companies a targeted training opportunity at no cost.

Another path may include greater engagement with professional organisations within the construction sector, such as the CIOB, RICS and RIBA. These already mandate ongoing learning through their membership and fellowship programmes. Professional membership bodies like these also help to source and deliver the training sessions we run during the different editions of The Big 5 that take place around the region each year.

Since our research has made it clear technology will be the strongest driver of change in the construction industry, we’ve developed two new elements to enhance our technology offering at The Big 5. The Big 5 2020 will launch ‘Digital Construction World’ a sector fully dedicated to all new technologies for construction and infrastructure.  We also launch a new Intelligent Buildings sector gathering together the products and services that make the built environment smarter. Both of these two features will include a broad offering of specialised technology training sessions as well as high-level summits.

We’ve also developed an online resource – The Big 5 Connect – where industry professionals can access an archive of all The Big 5 workshop and conference presentations. Our website also hosts our new and growing collection of webinars, white papers, audio learnings and Q&As with industry experts.

Our efforts and those of other organisations with whom we partner can help the construction industry deal with its need for technology training. Those professionals who enhance their own skills by taking advantage of available training opportunities will quickly become their employer’s most valuable assets.

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