The construction industry is facing a future marred by an ageing global population and an inability to attract young people. A seeming fix-all for the industry is the adoption of robotics technologies. If companies are seen to be adopting newer technologies and innovative processes, it will help attract younger and more tech-savvy workers. It will also ensure that companies can maintain productivity as working-age populations decrease around the world.
Robots continue to become more advanced
Robots as we know them are a 20th-century creation. However, the idea of automata or mechanical devices built to replace human labour or physical tasks is much older. Examples go as far back as ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The first known case is from Egypt in approximately 3,000 BC, when human figurines were built into water clocks to automatically strike the hour bells.
What distinguishes millennia-old automata from modern robots is intelligence. Modern robots can perform physical tasks autonomously, as all automata can, but they can also sense the environment in which they operate and make their own decisions. According to GlobalData, the robotics industry will grow from $45.3bn in 2020 to reach $568.1bn by 2030, having grown at a CAGR of 28.8%. As robotics spreads to more industrial and service sectors, one of the most important tasks ahead for policymakers will be to harness the economic benefits that robotics can bring while minimising the negative social impacts.
An ageing construction workforce
The world’s population is ageing, which means that there are fewer working-age people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% in 2015, to 22% in 2050. The construction industry is already facing an ageing workforce and is struggling to attract younger people.
One possible way of attracting a younger workforce is by companies showing that they are using robotics and other advanced technologies. Most young people have been raised with technology all around them, so adopting technologically advanced hardware and software will present an attractive option.
It is also very unlikely that the introduction of robots to construction sites will force workers out of their jobs. Rather, it will allow companies to maintain levels of productivity, as fewer people seek to pursue a career in the construction industry. New roles that allow workers to be more creative and explore the full potential of robotics will help create a new breed of construction workers that are technologically competent and free to bring new ideas to the table.
Other ways robots can help on a construction site
Construction sites present a wide variety of risks, many of which can only be minimised at best. The moving of heavy loads, undertaking tasks in precarious positions, and repetitive tasks all present different ways a worker can be injured. According to The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a program sponsored by the US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, 79% of construction workers are likely to be exposed to hazardous equipment at least once a week. In addition, nearly 90% of construction jobs require manual handling activities for more than half of their work time.
The use of robots can reduce how often workers are exposed to hazardous equipment and environments and need to undertake manual heavy lifting tasks. Loads can be safely lifted and transferred between stages without human intervention, and other dangerous tasks such as roofing and demolition work can increasingly be completed by robots. Advances in remote control technology also mean that, for some tasks, no human needs to be on the construction site at all. Operators can observe from a remote location and intervene if necessary.