Reprinted from Forbes
COVID-19 has caused mass disruption to the construction industry—and things are only getting more complicated. Between the rapid spread of Omicron, the threat of future variants, and the potential for a “flurona twindemic,” the virus’ impact will be felt on job sites for a long time to come.
Let’s take a look at what that could mean for the construction industry.
Covid-19 Issues Exacerbate Labor Shortage
The construction industry was already moving toward a labor crisis before Covid-19. Workers have been aging out without fresh employees to replace them—and coupled with the significant growth in projects and construction spending (projected to rise by 3.7% over each of the next three years), this becomes a significant issue for a multi-trillion dollar industry.
It looks even worse as the Covid-inspired Great Resignation kicks into full gear. With workers nationwide seeking more fulfilling jobs, better pay or a greater work-life balance, the numbers are disturbing. In November, more than 4.5 million workers quit their jobs. This is the highest number recorded since the government began tracking. Looking specifically at construction, quit levels spiked up to reach 207,000 in November alone.
When you consider worker frustrations rising due to supply chain issues that disrupt job scheduling, and thus payroll, we have a very serious problem. Simply put, construction can’t absorb a prolonged loss of talent at this level—especially with limited options for talent coming in; unemployment now stands at just 3.9%. We’ve got to figure out ways to attract and retain workers.
Vaccine Mandates Create Havoc
Staffing becomes that much tougher when you factor in vaccine mandates, which remain a source of contention across much of the U.S. labor force. Construction worker vaccination rates have consistently lagged those of the greater population, and as many as 75% of unvaccinated workers say that they would quit a job rather than get the shot. Construction companies are feeling the effects.
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA)’s rules, all workers must be vaccinated at businesses with at least 100 employees. Employers may opt to allow for weekly testing and mandated masking instead, which allows a little leeway, but steep fines accompany violations—over $13,000 per violation, with the potential for substantial increases. This puts organizations in a tight spot. How are they to keep track of who’s vaxxed, and who’s not?
Collecting health and safety information is one thing. Maintaining it and using it wisely is another. Worker health and vaccine status can change at a moment’s notice, and mandates continue to evolve. Most general contractors don’t have a reliable system to keep track of this data. As a result, it’s difficult to figure out which members of the workforce can be deployed on which job. It also puts employment status at risk at a time when companies can’t afford to lose workers.
And Then There Is Safety
Construction has historically been a very hands-on industry, often with multiple teams working on a job site at once and in close proximity. How can companies prevent workers from catching or spreading Covid-19 on a job site without compromising project timelines?
The CDC has instituted a number of guidelines for both construction workers and the organizations that employ them—some more practical than others. Without additional help, general contractors and employees may not be able to fully protect themselves in every environment.
New Technologies Address Concerns
Fortunately, construction-specific technology development was on the rise before Covid-19 took hold. Investors are devoting far more resources to the industry than ever before, and as a result, new innovations are coming to market faster.
Here’s my list of the big three construction technologies currently available that can address the issues highlighted above.
1. Smart Badges
Job badges have been around for a long time, alerting teams of who’s on-site, where they are from, what their role is, etc. They’re an important component of security. Now they’ve gotten smarter, as in they can understand workers’ movements and gain knowledge of how many people are in specific areas of a job site through zone density tracking. They can also put out an alert (audio and/or visual) when workers get too close to one another in order to enforce social distancing but still allow employees to function efficiently.
2. Worksite Management Software
Smart badges often connect to worksite management software. This means that if a specific individual contracts Covid-19, the company can conduct thorough and accurate contact tracing in a matter of seconds, notifying any potentially exposed individuals so that they can take appropriate measures, while also preventing a job site from becoming a Covid hot zone.
Additionally, worksite management software can become indispensable in terms of staffing and compliance. Platforms enable companies to track and manage individuals’ vaccination status, any religious exemptions, as well as project-related mandates in real time so that organizations can easily get the right people to the right job sites. Companies can stay in compliance and avoid possible fines or shutdowns while still respecting employees’ health-related decisions.
3. Access Control
An exciting development for construction has been the deployment of technologies like cameras and drones to record images and videos of job sites. During the Covid era, such technologies can be used to limit the number of employees on-site by enabling a good chunk of work to be conducted virtually. This comes in handy over the short term when workers are quarantined or have a mild case of Covid-19; employees can still work remotely and continue getting paid without using up sick or vacation time as projects keep moving.
At the same time, being able to work remotely can also help with the worker shortage. Project managers can potentially oversee multiple projects at once if they are not required to be on-site, empowering construction firms to accomplish more with fewer employees. And workers who are considering changing jobs can often be wooed by the prospect of working from anywhere—with the latest technologies.
With tools like these in place, we can keep workers safe, projects on track and address critical labor needs.