From Skilled Labor to Learning Workers – How the Industry Is Changing

From Skilled Labor to Learning Workers - How the Industry Is Changing

Once upon a time, the construction industry enjoyed a glut of skilled labor. Those who wanted to advance in the industry would either pay their dues on construction crews to pick up the skills of the trade or would attend trade schools to set themselves apart. The conventional wisdom was that once you developed skills within your trade, you’d have those skills for life, and skilled laborers would always be able to find a job. After all, it’s not like people are going to need fewer houses anytime soon.

In recent years, though, something began to change. Through the advent of new technologies and advances in materials, the construction industry started a slow shift toward embracing learning workers. While some saw this as a troubling sign that the industry was moving away from its core of skilled labor, a lot of the change was actually instigated by the skilled laborers themselves.

A Coming Labor Crisis?

One of the big things fueling the shift away from traditional skilled labor is the general passage of time. Older skilled laborers are starting to retire or take on other responsibilities in the companies they work for, leading to an increased number of open positions in construction crews. At the same time, the general interest in trade schools and other sources of skilled labor has declined somewhat in the last few decades. While trends show an increased interest in vocational training over the last several years, it hasn’t been significant enough to counteract the size of the aging population that will soon retire from skilled labor positions.

The Shift Toward Learning Workers

To counteract this, the industry is embracing learning workers as replacements for the skilled laborers of the past. These are individuals who don’t have the same knowledge and experience that a well-trained skilled laborer might bring to the table, but they also aren’t as rooted in the trope of “the way we’ve always done it.” For learning workers, training and skills acquisition continue throughout the employment period. They embrace new technologies, adapt easier to new installation techniques and are poised to be a driving force behind the modernization of the construction industry.

Technology and the Future of Construction

This isn’t to say that learning workers are completely unskilled or are unwilling to do things using the same techniques that companies within the industry have found success with. They simply approach the concept of training and experience from a different angle. Instead of seeing it as something you do at the beginning of a career, learning workers view training as an ongoing process that follows the path blazed by technology.

As learning workers become more common in the industry, a much wider adoption of technologies such as drones and augmented reality (AR) devices will occur. Apps and other software for use on the job will likely become much more common, and materials usage based on modern engineering and even ecological science may start to take precedence.

While it’s easy for some to dismiss the concept of learning workers as just being a trend for young people who don’t want to learn the “right” way to do things, the changes that this will bring to the construction industry in the long term through the advancement of technology and tools could very well reinvent the way we approach construction as a whole.

Have you seen more learning workers around job sites in recent years, or is there still a good amount of skilled labor in the mix in your area?