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Talent + Technology = Success: Millennials and Gen Z Expect Adoption of Advanced Technology in the Construction Industry
Steve Dell’Orto • 05 Oct 2023

Talent + Technology = Success: Millennials and Gen Z Expect Adoption of Advanced Technology in the Construction Industry

This discussion features ConCntric’s Founder and CEO, Steve Dell’Orto and Talent Expert, Gareth McGlynn, who is the Managing Director of Niche SSP, a firm of staffing experts that help connect companies with the most talented Estimators across the United States.

What are the most effective strategies for attracting new talent to the construction industry?

Gareth McGlynn: We conduct polls at Niche SSP—probably one each month—and the one thing that is always brought to light is the culture and the environment that construction professionals work in. The polls we conduct offer four options, but on average, 40% and 53% of workers say that their work environment matters. These results haven’t differed no matter what time of the year we poll, whether it be bonus season or hectic summer season. We have to give people the flexibility that they are looking for. A lot of companies are struggling with giving their workers flexibility without it hindering productivity levels. 

We consult with a lot of people on this particular issue. We also consult with them on salaries, but the one thing that always comes back is their lack of understanding of what the next generation is looking for. And because we live in a digital age, we need to buy into that. We need to stay connected to the next generation by being on their phones and in their faces with our branding. There are companies out there that are doing this incredibly well. They’re at trade shows and universities, and they’re partnering with students and getting the best applicants. So to me, you have to get your brand spot on, and you need to have the flexibility that the next generation is looking for. We all know that other industries such as finance, tech, law etc. are offering the flexibility they are looking for. There are even digital nomads out there traveling the world, documenting their story, and making $100,000 a year—this is what you’re competing with. 

There’s also a massive misconception of attracting new talent. In high school, kids learn that being in the trades is the second best option next to college or university. Students need to understand that you can go and get your engineering degree and also go into electrical or mechanical trades. The next generation needs to be able to use their hands and know how to build things. The challenge is making it sound sexy or cool. This could involve bringing technology into it because new talent wants digital—they want technology, they want flexibility and they want to feel appreciated. They want to know that what they are doing matters and that’s on us to brand ourselves to be more attractive to the incoming talent.

Steve Dell’Orto: Having previously worked at a construction company in San Francisco in Silicon Valley, where everyone was advanced and very tech forward, we were viewed as old school just for being in the construction industry. The challenge is, like Gareth said, how do you attract young people out of college when their friends are in the tech industry? Their expectations are high and they don’t want to join your company and witness an old school Contractor doing everything in Excel.

New talent wants you to really bring them in. And similar to what Gareth mentioned, it starts with culture. So it’s in your own best interest to put a little bit more gas in the tank and put your foot on the gas because change and innovation is expected. You have to cater to those needs and a lot of that has to do with the technology side of the equation. A new hire can walk in and know immediately whether or not your company is behind the times and that can be a make or break for them. On the flip side, when a new hire sees innovation happening, they know that helps drive the freedom and the work-life balance that they are looking for. They’re smart enough to know that the old fashioned way is going to take them three times longer to get the job done. 

Gareth really hit the nail on the head. I think to attract talent, it all comes down to your company’s team culture. A lot of that has to do with being advanced, open-minded and progressive, because they want to know that they’re with a company that is leading change and making things better. I think people are starting to wake up and realize that the modern approach to things is absolutely critical to both recruiting and retaining the talent that they have.

Gareth McGlynn: I think, as an industry, we have a serious opportunity here. If you think back, it was the financial services industry that was really good at branding at the very beginning. They had the suits and the flashy cars and projected that everyone who was anyone had to be making money on Wall Street. Then Google came in and made it cool to be sitting in an egg chair, getting free lunch and playing ping pong all day, while getting paid a fortune. Google makes it look interesting when a lot of them are likely sitting in front of a computer coding. Meanwhile in the construction industry, we are talking about building skyscrapers, hospitals, multifamily developments and superhighways. It’s so sexy, and yet we aren’t actually marketing it properly or doing it any justice. 

How can companies and organizations within the industry keep up with the expectations of younger generations when it comes to technology adoption? Is it possible that some jobs are being replaced by automation or other technological advances?

Steve Dell’Orto: I can’t see a single scenario in which implementation of technology is going to cost people their jobs, at least in an absolute value perspective. Tasks may shift, but we will never have an abundance of talent in our industry and we will never be in a surplus if we look at what the demand and needs are long-term. Automation should never be viewed as a threat to anybody in terms of job replacements. In fact, I think it’s just going to make workers more efficient and able to take on more meaningful work.

I think organizations overall have to really double down or triple down on their investments in technology. The technology and software side is really about partnerships, and I can’t think of a greater synergy than a company with a huge need, partnering with a technology company. Tech companies can solve more problems Contractors are facing by bringing them in and having them describe exactly what they need to be more efficient. From this, Contractors can easily integrate and implement the technology into their everyday workflows. The technology company also benefits from this because they’re solving problems on a broad scale, by reducing manual processes. 

Construction companies don’t need to spend loads of money, they just have to commit and be open-minded in order to embrace solutions provided to them. I think several Contractors, Architects and Owners have figured that out. Those people are lightyears ahead of everybody. And when everyone else starts to figure that out, they’ll benefit too. I think it’s imperative that construction companies wake up, and become part of the solution in order to help make a meaningful impact on our industry.

Gareth McGlynn: I love it. It’s not going to replace the preconstruction and estimator jobs, it’s going to change their jobs. And you’ll see the really good companies that have adopted the technology are now hiring a different skill set. They’re not hiring traditional estimators anymore to do takeoffs and the heavy lifting work, because now there is technology to do that. They’re hiring the people that build relationships with the Design Team and the Subcontractors to get things moving a lot quicker. That is what people ask me all the time, “What’s the difference between a Senior Estimator and a Preconstruction Manager?” A Senior Estimator does the heavy lifting, which we hope technology will start to help them out a lot more with, so they will be able to do the more enjoyable tasks. The Preconstruction Managers do value engineering, speaking with their client, saving them money, talking to them, and telling them a story and helping them visualize their data. Emotional intelligence is going to be huge and communication is arguably the most important part.

Steve Dell’Orto: Preconstruction is where you set the table for success. And when you’re planning a project, you need to look ahead and think about the current market forces that are in play, and determine the tasks that a computer or automation can’t do. The relationship between the Owner, General Contractor, Design Team and Subcontractors is essential to cultivating and extracting the best ideas out of everyone. But if the human is constantly tasked with doing menial tasks that can easily be automated, that’s a lot of time and bandwidth you’re giving up. And what becomes secondary is that higher level thinking, leading to the project suffering. Using automation is an incredible way to use your team’s abilities to do something a lot more thought-provoking, creative, fun and team-oriented. In terms of keeping up with advancement expectations, the younger generations expect that. If you don’t adapt, nobody’s going to come to your party.

How can companies and organizations within the industry balance the desire for technological innovation with the need to maintain the human touch and personal connections that are so important in this industry?

Gareth McGlynn: It’s going to be a difficult lesson, but it has to be learned. The companies that haven’t realized that this is the future of construction are going to struggle. That gap between traditional companies and innovative companies is going to get even bigger if they don’t have the desire to implement the technology and the talent that they need. Traditional companies are either going to fold or be bought out by companies that have the ability to make necessary changes. The human touch aspect is never going to go away. The industry is not going to be able to hire 600,000 people this year because there aren’t enough people to hire. The industry needs technology and if we don’t deliver it, we are going to lose even more people and suffer as an industry and as a society. 

Steve Dell’Orto: People think of technology and human touch as opposite to one another. But in this case, preconstruction professionals come to work every day and have a large list of items to get done as well as other duties—meetings, opportunities to collaborate, challenge and think through ideas. If we can really reduce the time it takes for them to get small tasks done, it’s going to give them more time for them to engage with the preconstruction team and cultivate those relationships. When you give workers the opportunity to dive into thought-provoking activities, that’s where you start to see significant value add to your brand. By lightening peoples loads, you free them up to do all of the thought work and the relationship work that adds value into a project. Technology, human touch and relationships should not be looked at as competing things, but actually as complementary. And the more technology that you can involve in your day-to-day preconstruction effort, the more time you’re going to have to talk amongst your team and lead the project to success.

Gareth McGlynn: It’s going to be pivotal. If you think of the people that I have recruited, for example, a Preconstruction Manager that uses technology can go to an Architect or a client and walk them through a project with visual representations of what their last four projects looked like. A construction professionals network has always been so important so if you are able to introduce them to technology and show them you are on the cutting edge, that’s what they want to see. They want to be involved in the best and the sexiest projects that they know are going to run seamlessly. So if you are a talented Preconstruction Manager, technology is going to be crucial to your success and an absolute game changer.

Follow ConCntric on LinkedIn, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), to stay up to date on when the next interview will go live. To demo ConCntric’s platform, click here.

Follow Gareth McGlynn on LinkedIn or visit Niche SSP for information regarding the recruitment process of preconstruction estimators.

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