COVID-19 pushed the world into new ways to work and live but the building blocks were already in place for transformation.
Leadership and change expert Jim Harris spoke recently at the BC Construction Safety Alliance’s Health and Safety Conference held virtually on Oct. 14.
Harris pointed to behaviours adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic as a massive boost to already occurring disruptive trends but stressed the importance of new voices as companies move into the future.
“Who’s closer to the future, a 65-year-old executive or an 18-year-old? Who does all the strategic planning and is it any wonder we only get incremental change?” he asked.
Harris encouraged firms to find “reverse mentors” at work who can help older employees adapt to technological change and added “this pandemic has forced us to learn.”
Harris pointed to e-commerce experiencing “10 years of growth in the first 90 days of the pandemic” as a phenomenon that would directly affect the construction industry.
“Twenty-five per cent of shopping malls in the United States were set to shut down because of online shopping, and that was before the pandemic,” Harris said.
Work-from-home will also affect office construction, he said, with many employees voting with their feet if forced back into an office setting.
Other trends affecting the industry include the increasing electrification of vehicles and the ongoing use of drones.
“Electrification of the transportation market will not only change cars but trucks, and electrification and autonomous vehicles will change construction as well,” he said.
Harris also cited a Barclays study that predicted drones will create $100 billion in new value.
“You can use drones to inspect high-voltage lines instead of putting people at risk. Drones are already being used to inspect the undersides of bridges and balconies,” Harris said.
He also pointed to exoskeletons already in use in manufacturing and construction environments, machines capable of 3D printing with cement and the continued rise of modular construction.
Harris said while technology continues to accelerate, “it’s not just about tech. It’s people, mindset, culture and training.”
Construction should focus on bringing youth and women into the trades, he added, citing a British Columbia Construction Association study that found women make up only 6.2 per cent of workers in the industry. At the same time, B.C. faces a construction labour shortage of 11,700 workers which will double by 2029.
“If you double the number of women in construction you meet the 11,700 workers,” he said. “What about 100 per cent women-only crews in order to make construction more welcoming?”
Harris stressed while artificial intelligence, automation and demographics are disrupting industry, humanity has faced challenges and adapted in previous eras.
“Where will all the humans work? It’s not an either, or, it’s an and,” Harris said.
More than 150 years ago, he noted, 80 per cent of Canadians were in agriculture.
“Now it’s only two per cent.
“We survived farm automation but people had to change, jobs had to change and entire new industries emerged,” he said.
“But none of the farm organizations that didn’t mechanize survive. In the short-term people who aren’t willing to change will be OK, but in the long-term they’ll cease to exist,” Harris said.
Follow the author on Twitter @JOCFrey.