The Labor and Technology Forum during SMACNA’s Annual Convention featured SMART General President Joseph Sellers Jr.’s thoughts on leveraging new technology from a labor perspective and technology expert Drew DeWalt’s take on innovation in the digital age.
Deborah Wyandt, Esq., SMACNA executive director of labor relations and human resources, who served as moderator for the program said, “Technology is growing at an unprecedented pace and our contractors need to know how to strategically integrate it into their business while training their workforce to be the most proficient in their industry.”
DeWalt, chief operating officer and co-founder of Rhumbix, urged contractors to take the lead and embrace technological change. “This Is your opportunity to engage more thoughtfully in the industry,” he said. Rhumbix, a SMACNA Silver Associate Member, helps construction companies go paperless.
Sharing the technological advances currently impacting the industry, he noted, “Data is driving the future of everything. Data is the new raw material of business. Ninety percent of the world’s data was created in the past two years. Businesses that are building their infrastructure around data insights are learning how much stronger data can drive their business to new heights.”
“Where do you start?” he asked the audience of contractors. “Focus on the tools and technologies that are going to help you every day. Ask yourself, ‘What is core to what I do and how is it going to help me on a daily basis?’”
“The construction industry is changing aggressively. You don’t just look at the technology, you look at what’s important for your business. Ask, ‘What’s frustrating and costing me time and pain and money?’ And then you go looking for it.”
“How do we improve what happens in the field for our folks?” he said. “How do we make their lives better? How do we make those small incremental changes? Start with the simple stuff.”
“So much is happening that you have to be engaged in the changing technology of construction,” he explained. “You want to be enhancing your workers with better information so they can make better decisions in the field.”
He urged participants to think about how they are going to approach their current condition and the trends impacting construction industry.
As for the future of construction, he cited a 10-year projection by the World Economic Forum that predicted full-scale digitization for the construction industry resulting in a 12 to 21 percent cost savings of up to $41.2 trillion globally.
“No matter how good a contractor you think you are,” he concluded, “you probably are not as good as you could be. It’s an opportunity to be better. So much is happening that you have to be engaged in the changing technology of construction.”
“There is so much out there you should be taking the lead for things that matter to your organization.”
SMART General President Joseph Sellers Jr. shared his thoughts on technology from a labor point of view. “We need to be ahead of the technology curve and figure out what technology we see that’s important to you,” he told the audience of contractors and chapter executives.
“There’s a huge shift in trying to adapt to this model of the increase in technology that we’re going to see in next five to 10 years. We’ve got to make sure we continue to shape our future. If we don’t shape our future, somebody is going to shape it for us.”
“When I come to visit you in your shops and to meet with you and your team and see the technology that’s in the workplace,” he continued, “how do we ensure that the JATC is planning for that technology? We need to pick up the pace. How does that technology that you’re implementing today get into your training centers?”
In addition, he noted that work hours are up 1.7 percent this year. “I feel it’s a lot busier. Work is a lot higher than what it was last year. Our strategic plan is to capture every possible hour that we can.”
He discussed the recent SMART Business Agents conference which focused on recruiting and retention, including a focus on a diversified workforce. “We need to be geared towards recruiting women in the trades, geared towards minorities. We need to be thinking about that. Where is our workforce coming from? What are our traditional recruitment methods? Are they working? Does that need to change? How do we improve and also how do we recruit and retain workers in our programs, whether they’re workers or apprentices?”
He discussed the upcoming next generation of workers as well. “Baby boomers are not the largest generation in the workforce anymore, it’s the millennials. In 2017, millennials became the largest demographic group in the workforce. What are we doing about it? How are we making sure we are recruiting and retaining that generation of sheet metal workers? How do we adjust to what it takes to get the best of the best into our programs?”
He advocated labor and management working together in partnership. “If you get everybody together,” he noted, “people want to do more. Getting everybody together would help improve how we function and improve on the job.”