Topcon Positioning Ireland Report –
DECLAN BYRNE, Technical Sales Specialist, Topcon Positioning Ireland, explores what can be done to boost productivity levels across the Irish construction industry, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The construction industry has fallen behind others when it comes to productivity, particularly manufacturing and agriculture, where automation and digital technologies are being embraced.
If you take a look at productivity outputs across different sectors, you’ll see construction has fallen behind. Research published in 2017 by McKinsey and Company, showed that the construction industry averaged annual growth of just one per cent in productivity over the last two decades, compared with a growth of 3.6 per cent in manufacturing.
The research also shows that levels of productivity across construction have actually dropped in recent years, and we’re now less productive than we were in the 1990s. However, there are several factors that we must take into consideration when looking at these statistics. The number of hours that we’re able to work on site has reduced, for example, and methods of working have become more restrictive in line with health and safety laws. While these changes are vital in ensuring the workforce is protected, it has led to a decrease in productivity levels.
As with manufacturing and agriculture, and many other sectors for that matter, the adoption of automation and digital technologies is helping to boost levels of productivity, but is there more that we should be doing in construction and infrastructure? Particularly in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the industry must explore how we can accelerate the rate of economic recovery, and boost levels of productivity at the same time.
Addressing the issue
A report, ‘Economic analysis of productivity in the Irish construction sector’ commissioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and produced by KPMG and Future Analytics Consulting Ltd, has been developed to address the reasons for low levels of productivity in the Irish construction sector and to identify actions and recommendations that can be undertaken to ensure the industry gets back on track.
There are many points raised in the report, including the recommendation that the industry should work with education and training bodies to upskill the sector on modern construction methods and digital innovations. That goes hand-in-hand with ensuring that education and training programmes are equipped with the best technology and resources to attract fresh talent into the industry.
This is something that has been at the forefront of Topcon Ireland’s strategy to help improve the industry for a number of years. Working closely with education providers, it’s vital businesses in the industry help to ensure resources are available for upcoming construction professionals to expand their knowledge and skills, giving them access to training, firmware, software updates, and real experiences.
Working with education providers is a great way to kickstart the careers of those looking to enter the industry but, as the report identifies, we must also ensure the existing workforce has the expertise needed to work with the latest technologies.
Investing in technology and people
Alongside investment into digital tools and technologies, investing in people is also critically important – particularly when it comes to ensuring they have the knowledge and expertise needed to work on a modern-day construction site. Especially as the industry moves forward into its fourth industrial revolution, modern-day sites are continually evolving as more and more companies start to realise the potential of digital technology, with workflows and processes being transformed; so, it’s also vital to ensure that teams on site are up to speed on how to use these innovative technologies.
Skills and labour shortages have been an ongoing issue across the Irish construction industry for a number of years, and digital tools have been introduced to help bridge these gaps. For example, with the introduction of automated machine control systems like the Topcon X-53x Automatic Excavator, the responsibility for accuracy and speed is in the hands of the technology, meaning new or less-skilled operators can perform like a professional while allowing the most experienced operators to work better and faster.
Likewise, with technology taking a key role across more areas of the construction job site, all team members will have more time to focus on other areas of work – such as keeping track of deadlines and ensuring works are carried out in line with agreed timelines – ultimately helping to improve productivity, accuracy and safety. By investing in training for our existing workforce, we can ensure they are gaining skills around the latest software, machinery and digital tools, to drive efficiency and productivity on jobs.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, many businesses in the sector, including Topcon Positioning, provided online learning opportunities for industry professionals to upskill at home. From free webinars to discounted training courses, the influx of us working from home allowed access to experts from a variety of fields and insightful discussions on everything from improving productivity with the use of digital construction workflows to overcoming barriers to technology adoption, as well as practical how-to sessions on the latest solutions. This approach to education for our industry shouldn’t end because we’re getting back on site; upskilling must remain at the heart of every business’s strategy to ensure we don’t lose the progress that has been made towards a more productive future.
As an industry, we’ve made incredible progress towards digital transformation, and this, in turn, has allowed us to boost levels of efficiency and productivity. Now, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, we must continue driving this progress and working with the industry to upskill.
By providing training, collaborating across the industry with various experts, and by working with educational providers, we can ensure professionals have the knowledge and skills needed to work with the latest technologies and construction methods. In doing so, we can have the confidence that the industry is equipped with the expertise needed to continue driving forward – to catch up to sectors like manufacturing and agriculture, and maybe even to get one step ahead when it comes to levels of productivity and efficiency.
To learn more about Topcon Ireland Positioning technologies, visit: www.topconpositioning.com/ie