The Rise of the Digital Trade Worker

The Rise of the Digital Trade Worker

It’s no secret that our industry is in the midst of a revolution. Many refer to it as industry disruption while others call it digital transformation, but just about everyone would agree that the changes technology is bringing about in the construction industry are much-needed.

Beyond improving pace and providing significant operational insights over the last 10 years, developments in construction tech have made managing change easier—at least for those who regularly sit in front of a computer. Unfortunately, that also means keeping the entire team on the same page has never been more difficult, especially when some of the team is in the field. Despite the promise of paperless job sites, all this tech still requires some paper-based output at the trade and field levels.

Fortunately, the disconnect between the office and field and the lack of a fully-digital project management solution aren’t purely detrimental. In fact, they’ve set the perfect precedent for another major change with the potential to benefit the industry tenfold: the rise of the “digital trade worker,” a field worker who is equipped with the right ground-level digital solutions to succeed.

Three Trends Influencing the Rise of the Digital Trade Worker

The rise of the “digital trade worker” isn’t an accident. Rather, it is a culmination of 3 major trends/factors, coming together to create a perfect storm for change:

1. Time

Baby Boomers (people born between 1946-1964) are retiring. The average age of a construction worker in 2014 was 43 years. That’s 7 years older than the average construction worker in 1985.

For more information, check out the graphic:

Today, more than 40% of construction workers are Baby Boomers. As these Boomers retire (construction workers tend to do so earlier than many other workers), the industry is experiencing an unprecedented exodus of talent that is creating large and problematic gaps. This factor is further compounded by the labor shortage the national workforce is already experiencing. As a result, trade workers have to be more efficient and productive with their time.

While technology is not the sole answer, it’s a path that can create real change. With the advent of the smartphone, most trade workers already have some level of comfort with mobile technology— and it marks the perfect access point to their digital toolbox.

2. Mobile

While not necessarily a new trend, the continued push of tech out and across the job site is happening more and more, and the consumers of that tech are increasingly trade workers.

Unfortunately, even those with the capability to succeed are often not properly trained or supported, leaving them far short of their potential. Given the fact that many of them can check their bank account, share pictures on Facebook, or shop on Amazon, they’ve proven they are more than willing to use their mobile device to get stuff done.

“Last year we implemented a Mobile Technology class at our annual UA-ITF Instructors Training Program (ITP) and plan on doubling the related course offerings for the coming year. We believe it is important to continue to push technology into the local training centers to better equip our members with the skills and the knowledge they need to ensure that our contractors have tech-savvy trade workers able to meet the needs of ever-growing technology.”

Kennith Schneider
UA Training Specialist

Today, many pockets at the trade level are proactively turning this tide by providing iPads to all their apprentices along with training, meaning that when they hit the job site, they’re already familiar with the technologies around them. But for many, rather than worrying about the cost to provide the training and technology, it is more a question of the cost of doing nothing and continuing to send their members into an unfamiliar environment—a point furthered by the reality of the labor shortage.

Because there are fewer workers in the construction industry right now, those working in the trades must do more with less. Efficiency is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity. With a healthy backlog of work and a still-dwindling workforce, the problem is not going away on its own.

3. An Increased Focus and Investments on the Needs of the Subcontractor

If venture capital investment is a measure of companies that are doing something worth taking note of, the construction industry has many recent examples. Companies like eSub, Assignar, and Rhumbix all had notable investments in the past year and are focusing intensely on creating more streamlined sub-contractor-centric workflows.

Communication between the Office and Field, where DADO is focused, is another underserved area where requesting and finding information is hugely problematic despite having all this tech abound.

Yet there is a big push and belief, as evidenced by recent investments, that indicates the sub-contractors are beginning to capture more of the mindshare in the context of industry change, innovation, and productivity gains, leaving the door open to a more universal model that services the entire chain, not just those at the top or in the middle.

We Welcome the Digital Trade Worker

Today, trade workers need to be more involved in the development of digital tools for meaningful change to flourish. By adopting technology into daily practice, it becomes possible to keep pace with (and lessen the adverse effects of) the “digital divide.”

Here at DADO, we have found that the digital divide persists not from lack of desire to use technology, but due to the lack of appropriate technological tools available for many construction roles. With this in mind, we believe that as we, and others, begin to build more tools with the trade workers, we will see real adoption and the emergence of the “Digital Trade Worker” on job sites.

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