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Optimising human minds for the future

It may be bordering on cliché, but the way technology is shaping the future of the construction and building services industries cannot be ignored.

Despite all of the forecasts about automated construction, it is important to remember that for all the sci-fi influenced premonitions of robots acting at our beck and call, it is the collaboration of new technologies with the human mind that should be the focus of attention.

We often align construction workers’ value to their gross motor skills – strength and power, and the ability to shift heavy objects from point A to B – but even more important are fine motor skills.

The precise, intentional techniques that influence every seemingly minor action have not been automated because they are built upon the sensory responses of human beings.

Similarly, our problem-solving capacity simply cannot be replicated by machines in the grand scheme of a large construction project. When unforeseen issues arise, it is our minds that should be relied upon.

These skills we value in construction workers today must be enhanced by technology, rather than replaced. They can lead to even greater opportunities within the industry on a human level, assuming we direct the industry down the correct path.

With more investment in education and in empowering workers’ minds, we can create a smarter, more efficient workforce.

One example in its infancy is the use of tablets on site. The increasing use of BIM in optimising the efficiency of building design is equally beneficial throughout the actual construction phase.

Workers can have detailed, interactive drawings and specifications in their hands. This helps cut down the time spent going back and forth to the site office should uncertainties or queries arise. Fewer hours are wasted unnecessarily and the detail available helps reduce errors, which translates to greater efficiency and cost reduction over the construction period.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to totally destroy the sci-fi dream for gadget and tech enthusiasts out there. Drone technology is another great example of a potentially perfect marriage between construction and modern technology. Programming these unmanned aerial vehicles as site monitors, with routine flights feeding details back to base, is an excellent means of streamlining a project manager’s responsibility.

Better access to information makes a smarter, more efficient workforce. Greater knowledge also results in greater productivity. Of course, it may initially cost more to train workers to use the skills needed to implement this more data-centric approach, but it would ultimately lead to significant savings and improved quality. Technology is a supplement to human beings and will ultimately result in better buildings.

Phil Marris is managing director at Jaga

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