Drew B Buechley, CEO
The construction industry lags when it comes to technology and automation, but we’ll see some significant changes this year that can transform us into one of the more innovative industries.
What Will Change
Quick Serve Restaurants and Retail Outlets Revamp
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc. Businesses such as Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) and retail establishments have been hit hard. In order to stay afloat, they have, and will continue to, focus on drive thru services, smaller footprints and moving stores deeper into neighborhoods, closer to customers. Shifts toward online sales mean an expanded digital footprint and a smaller physical footprint.
Operational costs play a role, as businesses evaluate how things are being sold. Why pay for lights and air conditioning for a 40,000 square foot building, when a 10,000 square foot building and a single, centralized warehouse boasts the same revenue?
This requires physical changes to buildings – in both location and size. To pivot quickly, traditional approaches to building won’t suffice. Already major food chains and retail outlets have begun shifting to a prefabricated/modular approach to building, using technology platforms and an industrialized approach to manufacturing and building. You’ll see continued growth in companies that develop and embrace technology in the modular world.
A Surge in Smaller Health Care Outlets
Another paradigm shift, driven primarily by COVID, is fear of monolith health care. The current COVID situation has made people wary of large medical facilities for preventative health care, or for non-COVID medical emergencies. Smaller buildings, on existing sites, will provide access to needed services, but aid in vaccination delivery. As with retail and QSR, these outlets will need to be constructed quickly, without sacrificing quality and safety.
A New Approach to Recruiting Skilled Labor
We all know, skilled labor resources are dwindling and the era of experienced framers, electricians and plumbers interpreting paper plans is ending. Coupled with a changing political environment and the pandemic’s impact on the economy, changes may be far-ranging.
It is quite possible New Deal-esque programs will emerge to stimulate the economy, and if so, would have a drastic impact on the availability of skilled labor we require. It will be critical to put a new “sexy” face on our industry to recruit new talent. We have an incredible opportunity to refocus, emphasizing opportunities for computer and digital experts, in both design and manufacturing. The prefab/modular approach to construction will demand those skills, not just in CAD-like architectural solutions, but in robotics and factory automation.
Traditionally a boom or bust industry, the integration of technology is transforming construction into a much less cyclical industry. We will be saved by increasing the interest of younger employees by flaunting our use of technology to deliver buildings and emphasizing the safer, controlled environment offered with prefab, without worrying about jobs disappearing during busts.
New job creation in construction, robotics and manufacturing will be critical to lure students to our industry, as will offering training for skills transferable to other industries. The more we close that gap, the more we create a level of experience that will deliver quality products, moving the industry forward in so many practical ways.
This is a tough time to start new companies, so we expect some consolidation, particularly some big-name acquisitions of existing technology and businesses. And then, 2022/2023 will provide fertile ground for emerging technologies.
What Will Stay the Same
The Renovation Explosion Will Continue
The work from home model has not just fueled renovations, it’s fueled an exodus from high-density, high-rent areas in search of lower costs and more space. This, in turn, has fueled the conversion of commercial space for other uses, including housing. The impacts on our industry are both positive and negative – appreciation for the crush of work, but stymied by project backlogs and lack of skilled labor. To streamline and level out the ugly demand curve cycles, the design/build process will require all of the changes we’ve noted above – attract young new professionals to our industry, continue to develop and deploy technology solutions that will enable sharing of content and manufacturing automation without sacrificing quality, particularly in the work from home world we now live in.
Embracing the Work From Home Model
We have all been forced to embrace this new paradigm, but, like car manufacturers, we depend on physical bodies being present in the design studio, the factory floor and the construction site. The need to develop and deliver digital content and services remotely will accelerate, forcing architects, engineers and labor to embrace technology to deliver their services.
Technology must continue to infiltrate the industry, allowing experts to deliver, with accuracy and quality, new projects. And employees must share thoughts, ideas or corrections remotely. For any level of success, all our data must be able to be created, edited, moved and shared seamlessly between constituents – from design to build.