Automation has long been considered the harbinger of future unemployment, and experts have in fact predicted that the widespread adoption of robotics and other technological advancements — artificially intelligent (AI) software and smart machines — could lead to millions of people losing their jobs. Many tasks in transportation, manufacturing, even insurance, law and taxation are already being taken over by machines.

Increased automation is expected to dramatically disrupt worldwide employment as early as 2020, but in the construction industry, which suffered massive job losses in the Great Recession,  automation could help mitigate the impact of current labor shortages and improve efficiency.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the construction sector lost more than 2.3 million workers (40% of the workforce) between April 2006 and January 2011. The share of builders reporting serious labor shortages skyrocketed from 21% in 2012, to 46% in 2014, 52% in 2015, 56% in 2016 according to Construction Dive. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that almost 200,000 construction jobs were unfilled in the United States as of February 2017.

Can an industry plagued by labor shortages get help from automated systems and machines? A number of AI-powered systems that could help alleviate the construction industry’s woes are currently in development. These include a mobile construction fabricator as well as a 3D-printer for buildings, both of which are capable of adapting to their immediate environment. And equipment giant Caterpillar has just invested $2 million in Fastbrick Robotics to develop and sell the Australian company’s robotic bricklaying technology. These construction systems are typically able to finish their tasks more efficiently and quickly than their human counterparts, so construction companies may benefit from certain  automated systems.

Some critics are wary of intelligent automation because they view it as an attempt to shut out and replace human workers. But in an industry that is already suffering from a lack of skilled labor,  intelligent automation is making inroads. In the race between man and machine, the pace is now quickening

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