Global Megatrends and Industry Division E
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
The construction industry encompasses a broad suite of activities. From those involved in building houses and civil engineering works to the construction of office towers and the practices of landscaping. Whatever the activity, we are witnessing changes across the industry division, and this article reflects upon this fact. The primary question answered is this - what could happen in the construction industry (ANZSIC Industry Division E) over the next 10 or so years? What career or business prospects are likely to materialise or disappear? These are some insights from a futurist on the construction industry – a perspective on what could be.
As with other articles exploring the future for different Industry divisions, the focus is just on the impact of two global megatrends – computerisation and climate change. Societal and demographic global megatrends are other ones (eg. fertility rates across the world are falling, with Europe expecting to see population declining in the decades ahead), but they may not be as significant as the two at the centre of this article.
About the global megatrend of climate change
Weather patterns are measurably shifting, ocean temperatures are rising, and we have seen the number of extreme weather events increase markedly in recent decades. All of these impact people: those on the land in agricultural settings, as well as those that live in cities (eg. shifting rainfall patterns pose a risk to the 70% of global agriculture that is rain-fed and the 1.3 billion people that are dependent on degrading agricultural land).
And so, without a globally significant and sustained effort at combating climate change, we will witness a continuing increase in land and ocean temperatures over the coming years. The frequency and duration of land and marine heatwaves will also increase. And not forgetting the growing intensity and frequency of heavy precipitation (eg. in the twenty years to 2000 there were almost 1,400 flood events across the globe, since then there have been about 3,300. More than doubling over the same time frame).
About the global megatrend of computerisation
The dynamism of the computer industry is quite apparent. From the rapid release of new smartphone models with better features every few months, to the growth of video gaming sector that now eclipses the size of the movie industry. From the faster speeds that the internet service providers can deliver with more powerful networking equipment, to the increasing storage capabilities of data centres across the globe. The growth of, and investment in, all sub-sectors of the computer industry has been buoyant for many years.
In fact, one chip company, TSMC of Taiwan, recently announced an investment of $100 Billion over 3 years to expand its semiconductor fabrication facility. This company sees demand for their computing hardware products rising because of the technological advances in, and market demands from, areas such as: electric vehicles, surface, air and land-based autonomous modes of transport, cloud computing, and 5G and 6G cellular telecommunications.
The impact of these two influences
Firstly to climate change, and its impact on the construction industry.
There are three categories of impact – materials, labour and processes. With changing weather comes changing building standards. Thus, as a locale becomes wetter, or dryer, or windier and so on, the specification of building materials recommended for a locale will be modified accordingly. A second order impact is upon existing buildings – repair costs may rise because the weather conditions for which the building was designed have changed.
For example, if a locale’s weather exhibits a drying trend, older houses built on a stump foundation (as opposed to a slab foundation) may well experience structural damage due to volume changes in the soil.
Another perspective of the impact of climate change on construction materials is in the creation of these materials – particularly cement and steel. With the binding agent in concrete, cement, accounting for about 8% of total global CO2 emissions, efforts are being made to find suitable substitute binding materials. For steel production, which accounts for the same levels of CO2 emissions as cement production, green hydrogen is starting to replace coal as this processes source of energy.
Regarding construction labour it is obvious that rising daily temperatures, longer durations of hot spells and perhaps wetter conditions will impact worker safety and thus feed into construction delays.
And then there is the impact upon construction processes. The principles of the circular economy, an approach that is in response to climate change, is all about eliminating waste and pollution. The aim is for as much re-use and recycling as possible. Sections of the construction industry are starting to embed circular economy processes, including: pre-fabrication, re-usable formwork, material recycling, waste reduction, and energy efficient operations.
And secondly, to the global megatrend of computerisation.
The increasing power of computers, the explosive growth in data generation, the improvements in robotics, together with the advancements in software engineering are all making their mark on the construction industry. Computer technology is having a bearing upon both the creation and operational life cycle phases of whatever is being constructed.
What this means is this: more data is being made available from more physical surfaces and construction processes, more automation of manual and cognitive tasks is being realised, and new business processes and models are being generated from insights gained from all of the above.
Take robotics. Aside from the 3D printing breakthroughs for housing construction, at both domestic and commercial level there are brick-laying robots that significantly speed up construction time. Robots (and drones) are used in site surveys and project inspection activities. They can also be used for fabrication tasks such as welding and in the application of adhesives.
And, take the storage and processing resources available through cloud computing. This internet-based technology is facilitating the collection and interpreting of an abundance of data. In turn, this leads to schemes such as building information systems that can monitor and manage a building’s energy usage and the quality of its internal environment. And it leads to the creation of a digital twin of a building, or other constructed entity (where the digital twin can be used to simulate various scenarios in a risk-free manner)
Thus, both climate change and computerisation (digitisation and digitalisation) will continue to shape the construction industry for the foreseeable future.
What are your prospects
From the preceding, and from a career perspective, there are several observations that can be made:
If you are more the “get it done” type: you’ll be using increasingly new materials under different standards with more complex machines
If you are more the “thinking” type: there’ll be more data and a greater need to analyse data from a systems perspective in order to manage operations, customers and regulations
If you are more the “creative” type: you’ll have richer data sets and new materials to create unique structures. Intelligent software will create new ways to manage projects and operations
If you are more the “helper” type: you’ll be needed to maintain the skills of those within the industry and develop pathways for those entering it. You’ll need to be aware of the changing weather patterns
If you are more the “leader” type: you’ll need to be very comfortable with leading people in an industry that is going digital and is responding to climatic trends
If you are more the “structure” type: you’ll be faced with newer building and practice standards as well as technology that makes more decisions
Overall, in the years ahead you’ll need to comfortable with both using more computing and not doing some of the things that previous generation of employees did.
Like with other industry sectors - from a business perspective, when it comes to responding to climate change it is all about mitigation (ie. shifting focus to reduce risk) and resilience (ie. fortification to handle risk). And, when it comes to computerisation its all about automation and using data. So, for those operating within the construction industry, likely business prospects are along the following lines:
Mitigation: changes in materials, regulations and construction practices
Resilience: strengthening physical infrastructure, understanding a locale’s climatic trends
Automation: increasing digital integration of all aspects of operations
Data analysis: improving the digital skills of the workforce and finding new value in the data
Overall, and quite obviously, for businesses there are both risks to be aware of and opportunities to exploit in the change that is happening.
The global megatrends of climate change and computerisation are impacting life and economies in many ways, including the construction industry. The use of digital technologies is assisting the construction industry in its response to climate change – from site selection and the development of new materials, through to the phases of building and operations. It is possible to see that both these trends are of a net benefit to each subsector of construction industry division.
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