Survey: More Contractors Embrace Technology Amid Labor Shortage

Technology is changing the way glazing contractors perform work on and off the jobsite by allowing for improved collaboration and project efficiencies during the skilled labor shortage. That trend is likely to grow. According to “The 2019 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook” survey from the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate, more than 40 percent of contractors surveyed said their firms will increase investment in technology this year.

Half of contractors expect to increase or maintain the number of projects involving building information modeling (BIM), while 27 percent don’t expect to use BIM on any projects in 2019. No contractor said they expect to decrease the number of projects involving BIM. While 38 percent of firms said they don’t use BIM at all, the remaining contractors reported using BIM for:

  • Clash detection;
  • Constructability input into the design process;
  • Visually communicating project scope to clients;
  • Designing 3-D models;
  • 3-D model-based takeoffs for cost estimating;
  • Scheduling and workforce planning; and
  • Safety.

Many firms are not using BIM, but 41 percent of contractors surveyed said they use lean construction principles on projects. Forty-four percent said they don’t use lean construction principles.

“As growing demand and labor shortages force contractors to do more with less, many firms are increasing their investments in labor-saving technologies and techniques like building information modeling, lean construction and robotics,” says Ken Simonson, AGC of America chief economist.

Design-build is the most used collaborative project delivery method by contractors (44 percent), followed by design-assist (26 percent), public-private partnerships (13 percent) and integrated project delivery (11 percent). Sixteen percent of firms reported not using collaborative project delivery methods.

File-sharing sites such as Dropbox (51 percent) and online project collaborative software (36 percent) are both used more than BIM (22 percent) to collaborate with project partners.

Most contractors (67 percent) report that their company spends less than 2 percent of its gross annual revenue on information technology (IT). Only 6 percent of contractors said their company spends more than 3 percent on IT, while 8 percent spend from 2 to 2.9 percent and 18 percent don’t know how much their company spends.

Despite those numbers, 42 percent of contractors report that their firm will increase its investment in IT in 2019 compared to 2018, while 3 percent said investment will decrease and 45 percent said it will stay the same. Thirty percent of contractors surveyed said their firms will increase investment in project management software and document management software in 2019. Estimating software, scheduling software, BIM and accounting software are other major technologies contractors expect will receive increased investment.

Most contractors reported that their companies are very comfortable (31 percent) or moderately comfortable (44 percent) with moving data to the cloud. Only 18 percent said their firms are not comfortable with the cloud.

When it comes to mobile software technology, some ways firms plan to use it are:

  • Daily field reports (44 percent);
  • Access to customer and job information from the field (40 percent);
  • Employee time tracking and approval (40 percent);
  • Sharing of drawings, photos and documents (38 percent);
  • Access to job cost and project reports from the field (34 percent);
  • RFI/issue tracking (26 percent);
  • Equipment tracking (25 percent);
  • Scheduling (25 percent);
  • GPS tracking (e.g. fleet tracking) (20 percent); and
  • BIM (14 percent).

More than half (53 percent) of contractors surveyed said their firm has a formal IT plan in place that supports its business objectives, 28 percent said their firm doesn’t have a formal plan and 9 percent said they don’t, but plan to do so in 2019.

Contracting firms’ biggest IT challenges are time needed to implement and train on new technology (26 percent), employee resistance to technology (24 percent), communication between field and office (24 percent), connectivity to remote jobsites (23 percent), keeping company data secure from hackers (21 percent), keeping software current (18 percent) and integration between software used inside of the company.

More than half of respondents (53 percent) were general contractors or construction managers and 32 percent were specialty or subcontractors. Forty-nine percent of respondents operate as an open-shop contractor, 26 percent operate as a union contractor, 11 percent do not self-perform or directly hire craft personnel and 14 percent operate as either a union or open-shop contractor but not always.

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