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Unitec research finds skills generation gap a major challenge for construction sector

  • Construction skills
    Extreme skills imbalance hampering construction sector

New research by Unitec’s School of Construction finds construction needs targeted training for workforce with differing technological skills and experience.

Published by Unitec’s E-Press, The Response of Auckland Construction Firms to Recent Technological Changes by Urvi Kerai, Dr Lydia Kiroff and Dr Rashika Sharma, investigated the adoption of technology in the construction sector.

A major finding was that while younger workers are “tech-savvy and take much less time to adapt to technology” they struggled working with traditional construction methods, older workers were more resistant to technology but quite knowledgeable and conversant with various construction practices, the authors said.

The researchers surveyed Auckland construction firms with the aim of understanding the different technologies they used, the challenges they faced adopting new technology, and the effect this has on the construction workforce.

For the past decade, the construction sector has been steadily been moving towards greater use of technology, however this is against a background of skilled-labour shortages and an ageing workforce, with those aged 65+ rising from 1.6% in 2000 to a projected 7.2% in 2021. Young workers (aged 15–24 years) have decreased from 17.4% in 2000 to 14.3% in 2021.

Meanwhile, the authors found the adoption of digital technologies in the industry affected all phases of a construction project’s lifecycle— from design and procurement through construction and handover, to facilities/asset management. This was reflected in the increased use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in industry projects nationally from 34% to 68% over the past six years.

The researchers found this extreme imbalance between older and younger workers created significant challenges for the industry, especially with the use of technology.

This often led to delays and disruptions on construction projects with firms spending considerable time on training young workers in traditional construction practices and older workers in new technologies. This meant the industry was often reluctant to adopt new technologies, leading to a lower use than other industries.  

However, the study found a positive relationship between technology adoption and organisational performance, particularly when firms invested in upskilling older workers in technology and the younger workers in constructions skills.

The authors said this research highlights importance of training for all workers and tailoring courses for busy industry professionals who work under time constraints, possibly in partnership with industry training organisations, the authors concluded.

Read the full paper here