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News & opinion

25 MAR 2020

Investment in people is transforming the construction sector

One of the unique aspects of the construction and real estate sectors is that employees work together on complex projects that have visible results. You can actually go and visit the buildings and infrastructure that shape communities and cities. This brings a terrific sense of accomplishment for everyone involved, and yet the sector has struggled in recent years to translate this into attracting the next generation of professionals that will carry the torch. The result has been a measurable skill gap in terms of what will be needed as the sector becomes more complex and technologically empowered.

The construction sector is traditionally focused on materials, structures and the processes that propel projects upward. It is, however, also an industry that is increasingly benefiting from a renewed focus on the people that make these projects possible. A major part of this is creating an environment that attracts younger and more diverse talent to a workforce undergoing demographic shifts as a large number near retirement.

As construction technology continues to revolutionize the processes that shape the built world, firms are likewise positioning themselves for success by revolutionizing how they interact with the most essential asset of any firm: its people.

Technology to empower people

While start-up culture is not without well-documented diversity & inclusion (D&I) issues, there is also undeniably an energy to modern tech companies looking to create the next innovation that will revolutionize their respective sectors. Tech disruption may have been a long time coming to construction in comparison to other sectors, even within the real estate space, but it is also now a major driving force as new ventures seek to make the industry safer, more efficient and more sustainable. This is inherently appealing to younger people and talent pools with new skills that can help accelerate sound tech adoption.

Even at larger and more established firms, it is increasingly common to find in-house incubators that fund and promote innovation and experiment with solutions to real-world, on-site issues. These kinds of initiatives encourage new ways of thinking and incentivize new voices in the room, particularly from young and up-and-coming talent within organizations.

D&I can address the skills gap

The reality is that the current construction workforce is overwhelmingly white and male—and this group is also gradually aging into retirement while fewer young people are replacing them. Part of the issue is being addressed through the adoption of software platforms to improve agility and stream-line business processes.

More importantly, though, leading firms and professional organizations, such as RICS, are addressing the skills gap by looking beyond programs to improve retention, balance gender and attract young talent. Instead they are looking at diversity in the true broad sense such as race, religion, sexual orientation and how to remove barriers to career progression for those traditionally less represented in the industry.

Construction workers looking at building plans
Diversifying the workforce will help increase innovation in the construction industry

Still, it is one thing to say the right things and another to put them into action. In my experience, creating and maintaining executive will is critical to lasting change and often improves with the use of tools such as unconscious bias training. Also, data and staff engagement surveys across an organization is a critical backbone to a D&I strategy.

Quality data enables sound understanding of underlying issues, thoughtful selection and implementation of proven interventions and provides a means to measure and test ROI on investment decisions. Empowered working groups that include diverse people and have access and support from executive decision makers have also proven to be a great tool.

Diversifying our options

Our profession exists to solve people problems. Without diversity of people at the heart of the critical thinking process, our solutions will fall short. Diverse people generate diverse ideas. These ideas free us from the echo chamber effect that stops us from making change in our industry. We need to do better, and we do need to do it faster – but we need to do it more responsibly. The thought that we can help shape that transformation; now that’s what we should getting out of bed for.

By Georgia Bergers MRICS, HammerTech and RICS Americas World Regional Board Member