When the construction industry paused operations during the 2020 shutdown, more than 1 million workers were left without jobs. Though nearly 80% of those workers have returned to the industry, some have not. And they may never return.
To meet surging demand, construction firms will need to hire 1 million workers through 2023, the Associated Builders and Contractors estimates. As 40% of the current construction workforce prepares to retire by 2031, recruiting the next generation becomes that much more vital.
Tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Zers hold the key to construction’s future. And construction firms are prepared to attract them with the most innovative tools.
“The exodus of construction workers during the pandemic caused construction firms to become more efficient with the help of the latest technologies,” says Brian Turmail, Vice President, Public Affairs & Strategic Initiatives, Associated General Contractors of America. “As the construction industry seeks to attract younger workers, the technologies that contractors invested in during the pandemic are becoming their most valuable assets.”
What drives Millennials and Generation Z?
Millennials, the generation born roughly between 1980 and 1995, have a reputation for being open-minded, ambitious, and efficient. As the first digitally native generation, more than 90% of Millennials own a smartphone and 86% of them use social media.
Driven by the instant gratification that instant messaging provides, the Millennials’ communication style has been described as “open and often”. And they bring that expectation with them to work.
Additionally, Millennials tend to be more socially conscious, active, and eager to contribute. Be it for the good of the team or the good of the world.
Generation Z shares Millennials’ digital prowess and keen social consciousness. What’s different, generally speaking, is that Generation Z’s identity is more tied to their online life.
A staggering 58% of Gen Zers can’t handle being offline for more than four hours per day. Also, as the most internet-dependent and racially diverse generation, Generation Z values a work-life balance, inclusion, and the latest innovations.
Born between 1996 and 2015, Gen Z was slated to enter the most competitive workforce in many generations. It was a period characterized by record-low unemployment until COVID-19 came along.
Fortunately, Gen Z is a resilient group. Known for their optimism, they now find themselves in demand.
“Unlike Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, the younger generations have seen all that technology can help them achieve in their daily lives,” explains Troy Guevara, Construction Technologist at Digitek Solutions, a construction software supplier. As a consultant, Guevara has seen which recruiting methods work and which don’t. “If a company isn’t using the latest and greatest in tech, it’s going to be a turnoff to Millennials and Gen Z,” he says.
But what is the “latest and greatest” in construction technology?
Construction safety technology is among the most innovative
When attracting a generation of young, underskilled workers to the construction industry, it’s important to train them through innovative safety technologies.
The more advanced the solutions, the greater the appeal to Gen Z and Millennials. Innovations such as exoskeleton suits will be just the sort of equipment to attract them.
“Like Sigourney Weaver in ‘Aliens,’ exoskeleton suits are a great fit for Millennials and Generation Z workers,” Turmail says. “These actually exist now, and workers wear them to avoid being injured when operating heavy equipment. Using a jackhammer while encased in a space-age suit, I don’t know about you, but that’s cool to me.”
For workers in their twenties and thirties who want to use the latest gadgets at work, “wearables” are a big draw. The sensor-laden hard hats, boots, and watches that fall into the wearables bucket protect construction workers from injury and alert them to nearby dangers.
According to MarketWatch, the global wearable technology market in 2019 was valued at about $28 billion. Through 2027, it is expected to grow more than 15%. The popularity of wearables can be attributed to their effectiveness in monitoring workers’ health, detecting falls, and saving lives.
To a younger generation, wearables also happen to be undeniably alluring.
“Wearables are just one example of how construction workers can use technology they find appealing and benefit from it at the same time,” Turmail says. “Wearables alert workers to a bulldozer behind them as if to say, ‘Watch your back.’ You could wear a smartwatch that measures your heartbeat and core body temperature, ensuring you’re getting the right number of breaks and hydrating. By alerting workers to imminent risks, wearables keep construction workers safe and healthy on the job.”
Millennials have been perceived as impulsive and daring, but one study says otherwise. Seventy-six percent of Millennials surveyed said safety concerns led them to pass up certain experiences. And 90% of Millennials reported using their smartphones, at least in part, to ensure safety.
“Millennials’ concern for personal safety is further evidenced by a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association,” writes Forbes. “It reveals that an overwhelming majority of millennials cite personal safety as a top concern in the workplace and elsewhere.”
The latest safety innovations can only ease Millennials’ concerns.
“Safety technology affords construction workers the confidence that they’re going to be safe, and I will tell you, that attracts a lot of people,” Guevara says. “The more innovative your safety technologies are, the more they’re going to bring in the next generation of workers.”
Driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision, the Motive AI Dashcam is one piece of camera-based technology that helps employees stay safe at work.
For those who drive as part of their jobs, the AI Dashcam alerts drivers of unsafe behavior in real time, helping to improve driver awareness and transform the safety of fleet operations. Dashcams are an especially important tool to monitor Millennials and Generation Z, as 75% of them prefer texting to other forms of communication.
As inexperienced construction workers learn to drive large vehicles, such as cement mixers, dashcams can alert younger operators to the risks of cell phone use at the wheel.
Learning with AI that’s focused on preventing accidents is exactly the kind of techMillennials and Generation Z workers want.
At the end of a trip, drivers can coach themselves on improvement areas by reviewing AI Dashcam footage in the Motive Driver App. Self-coaching allows inexperienced construction workers to develop the safety habits and skills they need to grow in their careers.
Read: Psychological safety in construction and beyond.
Attract talent through tech that boosts productivity and efficiency
Productivity and safety may seem distinct from one another, but the two are closely linked.
“At its simplest, the more you can protect against incidents on the job site, the more productive you’ll be,” Turmail explains.
Pre-construction technologies that drive productivity and efficiency are redefining what it means to work in construction. Virtual reality (VR) goggles, for example, enable workers to “walk through” a building they’re constructing and see it as it exists in virtual reality.
“When contractors are building with the help of virtual reality, they can identify all of the problems they would encounter in real life and eliminate them before they ever turn the first piece of dirt,” Turmail says. “They can say, ‘I have a hot water line right there and I need to move that. If a space is going to be too narrow to walk through, construction workers can widen it. They can use robots to laser-scan everything they’ve built. It all works together to help workers ensure that they’re not about to execute on the wrong thing or the dangerous thing.”
Similar to virtual reality programs, building information modeling (BIM) has become the most commonly used technology in the construction industry, according to Construction Business Owner Magazine.
BIM is a collaborative process that allows architects, engineers, developers, and contractors to plan and construct a building within one 3D digital model. BIM empowers designers to make informed decisions during the life cycle of a project, from planning and design through construction and operations.
Seventy-three percent of U.S. contractors surveyed by Dodge Data & Analytics say they use BIM, and 79% of them say they use it on more than 30% of their projects.
Cloud computing in BIM allows users to take projects, models, and drawings with them anywhere, creating just the sort of efficiency younger generations desire.
With their efficient management of approval workflows, software programs such as ProCore appeal to Millennials and Generation Z for their efficiency. Step-by-step approvals from architects, project managers, and engineers lead to fewer design changes and more streamlined processes.
Procore also facilitates easy document sharing among teams, allowing the documents to be saved and accessed directly in the software.
“Millennials and Generation Z workers want cloud technology that is handy, available, quick, and easy,” says Guevara. “Generation Z is as mobile-centric as it gets, so any mobile, cloud-based solutions you can allow them to work with will keep them engaged and productive.”
Guevara cautions that having software programs that help with project management are not enough if the programs don’t communicate with each other.
“If workers in the field are clocking their time in a mobile device, but the mobile device doesn’t connect to a company’s accounting payroll, firms have traded one problem for another,” he cautions. “Without system integration, firms aren’t going to be able to manage anything. It’s like saying, ‘Now I’m watering that piece of grass, but I have to pick up the hose and water another part of the grass.’ The key is finding systems that connect and communicate with accounting. That’s how to maximize efficiency.”
In this competitive job market, recruiters who can offer roles with leading-edge tech will attract younger workers.
“Employers and workers are all looking for that productivity increase,” Guevara says. “Firms are finding efficiencies wherever they can through technology. It’s going to help them draw young people in.”
Now that you’ve gained insight into how to attract the next generation of talent, get the latest tips on how to retain top talent.