How Fearful of Robots Should Construction Workers Be?


Construction robotics has been a highly covered topic in the media for the past couple years.  3D concrete printing, brick laying robots, and self-driving track loaders are just a few of the technologies that have promised to disrupt construction sites across the world. But how exactly will these innovations affect the construction industry’s workforce?

A new report, titled “Moving to Industry 4.0: A skills revolution,” was recently published by Mace, and international consultancy and construction business, to examine the effects that a fourth industrial revolution will have on the construction industry.

The first three industrial revolutions were caused by: water and steam power, then electricity/mass productions, and finally computer automation.  Each of those revolutions forced a workforce decline in major professions, but most those workers were “reskilled” to fill the necessary jobs to support the new technologies.

Unlike the manufacturing and service industries, the construction industry’s rate of productivity has remained stagnant for decades.  The report states that the acceptance of the revolution will finally lead to a breakthrough in efficiency.

In addition to robotics, there are several other technologies that will also cause a shift in how the construction industry operates, including blockchain technology, the internet of things (IoT), augmented reality, and advanced material science. The internet of things, which includes sensors and other devices that turn previously inanimate objects into data produces, have recently made their way into the tool industry,, most notably with Milwaukee Tool’s ONE-KEY and DeWalt’s Tool Connect.   

Advanced material sciences have promised longer lasting building materials that require less maintenance, like roads that can de-ice themselves, smaller and more powerful solar cells, and concrete that can “heal its own cracks.

Those that Mace surveyed believed that advanced data and analytics, augmented and virtual reality, and advanced energy storage and creation will have the highest impacts on the industry in the near future.

As for the specific jobs that would be affected most by a construction robotics disruption, Mace analyzed the British workforce to determine which professions would be affected most by a fast paced change over the next 20 years. The 10 most vulnerable construction professions are:

1. Specialist building operatives

·         Current job amount: 55,480

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 3,280

2. Roofers

·         Current job amount: 43,830

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 2,590

3. Laborers

·         Current job amount: 127,220

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 7,520

4. Carpenters

·         Current job amount: 262,920

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 15,550

5. Flooring Installers

·         Current job amount: 25,580

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 1,510

6. Brick masons

·         Current job amount: 72,760

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 4,300

7. Plant operatives

·         Current job amount: 42,040

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 2,490

8. Drywallers/Plasterers

·         Current job amount: 47,500

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 2,810

9. Steel erectors/structural fabricators

·         Current job amount: 25,450

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 1,500

10. Painters

·         Current job amount: 111,080

·         Predicted job count in 2037: 6,570

While the numbers look bleak, the report also mentions a need for the industry to prepare for a shift in the type of labor needed to adjust to the upcoming industrial revolution.  The construction industry could find itself to be unique in that people with specific knowledge of their trade will be valuable to the technology companies.  Mace’s report offers 3 suggestions to make the transition through Industry 4.0 smoothly: accelerate the use of new technology in training, inform lifelong learning decisions, and revolutionize the traditional education programs.

To accelerate the use of new technology in training, Mace suggests that training be provided immediately for augmented reality on the jobsite, promoting the use of construction technology in primary and secondary schools, and creating construction clubs to teach children how technology can help build structures.

Informing lifelong learning decisions involves keeping those who are already in the construction industry engaged with the changes and helping them adapt.  The industry cannot simply rely on a changeover with complete changeover with younger professionals, they have to make sure the core of the industry is ready to take on the new challenges.

Revolutionizing traditional education programs highlights the need to have the technical schools and apprenticeship programs to focus on technological advancements to keep the programs relevant.  If skills are being taught that will no longer be used in a few short years, then that valuable training period will have been wasted.  There has been a big push by the industry across the globe to reinvigorate trade and technical schools, but it’s important to make sure the curriculum will match what will be expected in the future.

What do you think about technologies upcoming impact on the construction industry?  Tell us in the comments below!

Full Report: Moving to Industry 4.0 | Mace