Mason. Superintendent. Plumber. Architect. Glazier. Owner. HVAC. Engineer. Construction Technologist (CT)?
Yeah. Here comes tomorrow. Construction roles are on the move. The loud arrival of construction management software (CMS) in the construction sector has been dominating headlines for a while now. The cultural sea-change in construction has been attended by a bit of turbulence, from the “if it ain’t broke” philosophy, to a healthy wariness of trends that may or may not represent meaningful change. It is safe to say that digital construction management solutions are here to stay.
A 2018 survey of construction industry professionals showed that 87% of those surveyed embrace the model of cloud-based CMS. Construction management technology is proving its value in the field, and in the office, every day. Today, technology solutions heatedly clamor for construction business. How can a construction outfit be sure it is making the most informed budgeting and purchasing decisions in this increasingly vital technology category?
Boomer Exodus and the Construction Technologist
Hitesh Dewan, director of technology integration at Roebbelen Contracting, Inc., is one of a vanguard of construction tech experts beginning to populate the construction sector. These men and women are hacking a path through the technology jungle, bringing desperately-needed clarity and guidance to a construction space that wants to keep informed pace with progress.
“I’m an internal consultant who works for everybody within the company,” Hitesh explains. “I bring to the table solutions that people are asking for but not seeing.” He sees the construction discipline as a collection of many complementary parts. “Every person that’s a part of this machine of ours, front to back, they know their process and they know the tool that they use. What they don’t know is the full breadth of tools available to them.”
Baby boomers are retiring from the construction sector at a rate of about 10,000 a day, and will continue to for the next 12 years. The issue isn’t a population of construction workers who are largely unfamiliar with technology—that balance is changing daily. The issue is knowing which of the countless CMS solutions are the best ones for your construction business. Even someone with broad familiarity of the tech environment is going to be lost in that marketplace, and the stakes are high. This is exactly where Hitesh and his Construction Technologist colleagues come sweeping in to save the day.
“Everybody needs to be able to utilize the tools they have in the best way possible. At the same time, they don’t know what others are using, so they don’t know how to choose the most appropriate tools going forward. You need somebody who can look at it from all aspects.” All aspects, of course, means a knowledge base that supports both construction and technology. So, is the Construction Technologist a construction expert immersed in technology, or a tech person immersed in construction? Yes.
“In a sense, it does have to be both,” says Hitesh. “It could be a lifelong career builder who is now starting to realize, ‘Hey, I’ve been swinging this hammer the same way for 35 years’, and now sees a better way to do it. They start embracing technology and advocating for it.”
“Alternately, there are those folks who are sitting on a heap of process and automation knowledge, which can be applied to anything. A process engineer can brilliantly move the widget from point A to point B to point C. In that case, all they need is to really understand building and then apply that process expertise to construction.”
Rising Army of Techsperts
At the end of the day the Construction Technologist is a construction company’s technology insider; a sort of family tech guru who is intimately acquainted with an outfit’s construction processes. The CT is able to clearly see, in the landscape of options, the best technology fit for the company—considering price point and plausible ROI. Is there any sense in which the CT needs to be an ongoing advocate for technology in the construction space? Hitesh explains the strange metric that answers this question.
“That’s actually almost a bit scary,” he says with a laugh. “A construction technologist is working to eliminate their own role, really. Not literally, of course. But you’re not there to just provide solutions. You’re there to build a mindset. Once that mindset is established, you don’t need to harp on it again and again. Now, that may take 1 to 5 years or 10 years, or it could be a lifelong need for a company. But you are building a mindset. It is a daily practice, like Lean. You can’t get Lean if you don’t have a Lean mindset, or you can’t provide Lean culture if it’s not a pervasive culture. So it is with technology. And that is part of the Construction Technologist’s role.”
From a certain perspective, it could be said that never before in history has the workforce’s need for a particular expertise synced so perfectly with the lifestyle of an emerging generational cohort of workers. In this post-industrial2 epoch, young people across a range of academic and vocational disciplines are surrounded and infused by day-to-day technology practically (if not literally) from birth. Is this a rising army of prospective Construction Technologists? And can these young people have any real idea how vitally important and central they can be to tomorrow’s global built environment?
“I think if I have one message to STEM students—to ALL students—and to the industry in general, it’s this; the construction sector may have always had this image of being about hard work, manual work, something not necessarily tailored to those with technology expertise. And construction is indeed hard, manual work, and genuinely noble work. But if you’re paying attention to the industry today, you also see how much automation, how much digitization, how much cloud-based ingenuity and process change is happening in construction.” Hitesh pauses.
“Look, even if you don’t know how to build and you’ve never swung a hammer in your life, you’d be surprised at how many opportunities for advancement there are in this trade.”