The construction industry is failing to adopt innovative technology on a large scale because company bosses regard it as too risky.
That’s one of the findings in a new report from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), entitled Unlocking construction’s digital future: A skills plan for industry.
It warned that while modern technologies such as 3D printing and drones can increase productivity, and help attract people to the sector, construction risks being marginalised and losing a generation of new talent to other sectors without identifying what new skills workers need and equipping them with them.
It also cautioned that much of the technology being used in construction is not at the cutting edge of what is available. While drones, LIDAR, smartphones and tablets are widely used, the “really innovative” technology is generally limited to small pilots or trials because investment in larger-scale applications is deemed too risky.
And it found that digital construction is understood to mean different things to different people, with many assuming that it is limited just to BIM.
Those trying to implement digital methods felt frustrated when persuading others to make a “leap of faith” because of the lack of understanding in how technology can be used to solve problems.
The report asserts that for change to happen, new cultures and ways of working need to be driven from the top and that leaders of companies large and small need to “think digital” in everything they do.
Digital change leaders needed
It adds that tech-specific skills are not the problem but that broader skills and competencies at various levels need to be addressed. Leaders need skills in implementing digital change and creating the right structures and culture, it says, while managers and operatives need problem-solving skills and greater digital awareness.
Following the findings of the report, which contains a number of best practice case studies from organisations including Tideway, Highways England and Dudley College of Technology, CITB is committing to a programme of support, including targeted funding, to help meet the skills challenge to enable sector digitalisation.
Steve Radley, director of policy at CITB, said: “There is no question that construction needs to upskill and recruit new talent to harness the huge opportunities digital technologies present. It’s not too late, but it won’t happen without rapid action.
“Our report shows that the lack of common understanding on what digital construction actually means is part of the problem. Industry has to be clear on its definition and what skills employees will need. Sharing best practice will be critical.
“We will work with industry to agree on digital skills goals and a plan of action to achieve them. If we can do that, British construction can become more productive, more profitable, and more attractive to the talented workers it needs.”
Writing in the report’s foreword John O’Connor, group commercial director from Laing O’Rourke, said: “Digital technology will be a cornerstone of construction sector reform to productivity, efficiency and quality of delivery. Done right, it can also support the attraction, retention and inspiration of new generations of talent for our sector.”