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As children, many of us dreamt of becoming construction workers, plumbers, and electricians. Traditional, boots-on-the-ground work has been around for as long as we can remember, and while technological advancements will never make the skilled trades obsolete, digital transformation will increasingly shape the way employees and organizations get things done.
The skilled trades are currently tasked with evolving at a rapid pace to keep up with an ever-changing digital world — all while combatting a slew of other industry challenges. Luckily, several of these industry challenges can be solved through technology and digital transformation – it’s just a matter of whether organizations leverage the correct tools and understand the importance of breaking down old-school silos to create long-term business value.
Amid widespread job vacancies and slashed budgets, employees grapple with the challenge of performing their daily tasks despite a lack of resources. In a recent survey from NFPA, 45 percent of skilled tradespeople said a shortage of qualified workers would be their biggest challenge at work in 2023.
Digital training is key in continuing to build organizational momentum amid hiring lulls. The days of wasting time searching for notes and information in hard copy books and manuals have come and gone. Critical job-specific information such as codes, guidelines, and instructions can all be housed under one digital training platform, enabling employees to allocate their time accurately and efficiently. Online training also provides tradespeople with the flexibility to work at their own pace. By eliminating the pressure and time commitment that comes along with in-person training, employee morale receives a boost and organizations fulfill their goal of continuous education in the workplace.
Beyond high rates of employee turnover, companies are also learning how to manage the Great Retirement. Preserving generational knowledge from veterans who have been around for decades has become an essential advantage of technology adoption. This type of institutional knowledge is strictly obtained through years of experience, learning through mistakes, and dedication, and cannot be found within a printed codebook or during a webinar. With digital tools, organizations are preserving veteran knowledge for current and future employees to reference. Experienced professionals can create notes directly within a code publication, curate collections of information, and bookmark specific sections to share with less experienced workers – paving the path for employee and organizational success.
There’s no denying the impact that external pressures such as increased material costs and supply chain disruption have on the skilled trades industry. With such uncertainty, organizations are navigating these challenges day by day and doing the best they can to ensure job security for employees. One asset that remains invaluable throughout an ever-changing environment is the people. Not only listening but acting on employees’ wants and needs is essential to persevere through challenging times.
The NFPA survey found that 68 percent of respondents felt the desire to work with innovative, non-traditional tools on the jobsite, and 25 percent believe that technology implemented in their day-to-day job functions would improve accuracy and safety. To address these desires, organizations’ investment in their employees means investing in digital tools.
Streamlining daily tasks and increasing workplace collaboration benefits organizations from the top down. Not only do digital tools improve accuracy and safety, but they also help resolve code inspection disputes more quickly, provide quick and simple access to codes and standards, and increase employee and customer confidence. Forty percent of skilled workers believe the biggest opportunity for technology to improve their day-to-day work on the jobsite is in ease of communication between team members. With workers on the jobsite and in the office, communication and collaboration efforts remain continuous through digital notes, sharing capabilities, and live code updates. These abilities are particularly helpful for people who travel during the workday and need to ensure they are working from the most updated source of information, whether it comes from colleagues or industry governing bodies.
Every jobsite has different requirements and conditions, meaning skilled trade workers need to quickly adapt to each project on a case-by-case basis. Although priorities are often shifting, 37 percent of skilled trade workers said they prioritize quality of work first and foremost.
Regardless of specific project requirements, maintaining a high quality of work remains constant for skilled trade workers. From a facility standpoint, buildings are constructed for longevity. Over time, ownership changes alongside functionality and use. Producing quality work from the start will ensure buildings can endure changes without deteriorating. Leveraging digital tools to uphold the responsibility of quality work will only improve workplace operations.
Technology is a strategic benefit throughout the lifecycle of a building or facility. Within digital tools, historical building data and notes from the original construction team are all at the fingertips of the current tradespeople working on the project. Workers or building managers can more seamlessly answer their own questions and have a future-proof reference guide accessible when it comes time for renovations and functionality changes to a space.
It’s no secret that transformative advancements across industries are rooted in widespread technology innovation and subsequent adoption. Digital transformation is taking traditional industries such as skilled trades and turning them into sustainable and resilient sectors built for the long term. Many of today’s industry challenges are being solved through digitalization efforts adopted by entire workforces. With 28 percent of skilled workers anticipating their organization’s budget will emphasize updating manual or outdated equipment in 2023, the opportunities for the skilled trades industry will continue to expand.
Kyle Spencer is director of NFPA LiNK at NFPA.