Solution approaches for the shortage of
skilled workers in the construction industry

A recent survey by the Bau- und Immobilienreport (Construction and Real Estate Report), for which 34 managing directors in the construction industry were interviewed, shows that the shortage of skilled workers will be the biggest challenge for them in 2023. We asked ourselves what solutions are available to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers and interviewed Christian Hellerschmied, who has been working on the topics of innovation and digitalisation for 7 years.


Question: According to a recent survey by the Construction and Real Estate Report, the shortage of skilled workers tops the list of the biggest challenges in the industry. Which areas of the construction industry are particularly affected by this, and what reasons do you think are responsible for the problem?

Christian Hellerschmied (CH): A global factor is, of course, the demographic change that affects all industries and will only really take effect in the coming years. In addition, the construction site is not the most attractive workplace when you think about flexible working hours, home office or the physical demands. Within the sector, almost all areas are now affected. However, the shortage of skilled workers is particularly noticeable among operational staff in construction management and commercial staff. In the “commercial” sector, we need to focus on relieving the burden of auxiliary and secondary tasks, and automation will also play its part in making do with fewer staff.

In construction project and construction process management, it is much more a matter of future-oriented training. Examples such as the Master’s programme in Construction Robotics at RWTH Aachen University must not be the exception. If we start with dusty processes in training, the image of the construction industry will not change very quickly. The industry tries to counteract this with in-house training and further education programmes. However, by then it is usually already too late, when the decision for basic training has already been made for another profession. If an open approach between universities and industry partners aims at joint research and development, a job in the construction industry will also become massively more attractive.

Q: What new methods are there to relieve the burden on construction workers? What solutions are waiting in the wings and what possibilities lie even further in the future?

CH: There are already many exciting solutions, such as smart glasses (note: data glasses that display information in the user’s field of vision). With them, specialists can support and coach construction site personnel remotely. Expertise can thus be made available easily across regions. Even remote workplaces are already possible with the technology available today, for example in machine control – always taking into account the local conditions, of course. Some manufacturers have already proven that it is possible to control a crane from the ground or even from a greater distance. The real view from a crane cabin is sometimes even more limited than it can be by means of camera technology.

The use of semi- or even fully autonomous robot technology has also already been tested in several pilot projects. Whether in surveying, material planning or installation. I don’t want to give the impression that drones will soon take over the positioning of precast walls or that a crane can do this fully autonomously. But the profiling of slope angles, the excavation of drainage shafts or the installation of cable routes could already be done autonomously today on the basis of a corresponding BIM model.

Personally, I would be satisfied in the first step if we were to use available developments in deconstruction, drilling and grinding work, but also in the processes of construction acceptance and documentation, and establish them as an industry standard. This would defuse hazardous areas, reduce the time spent by our employees and create a more work-friendly environment. Another factor to increase the attractiveness of the industry.


Q: What do companies in the industry already need to consider in order to remain successful in the coming years?

CH: An essential factor is the definite will to want to develop further. The industry does not “only” need good construction technicians, but also a mixture of mechanical engineering, data technology and IT. Whether in-house or with the right development partners. In the end, it’s always about building, of course, but also increasingly about data, processes, machine controls and standards for data exchange.

In construction management, we now have to worry too much about documenting what IS planned, what IS built, what IS delivered, why something didn’t go according to plan, etc. With certain data structures, the necessary integrations by means of IT architecture and the willingness to approach processes a little differently than in the last 100 years, you will be well-equipped. I was trained from the beginning of my education throughout my professional career on how to deal with deviations. Undeniably, this is an important quality to successfully complete a construction project. However, we still take far too little time to reflect on why the deviation occurred and whether the plan should not have been different. In the future, these evaluations will be supported by systems and give us the time to clarify causes and draw appropriate lessons for the next construction site. As a result, we will no longer feel like the “fireman who put out the fire” but like the “civil engineer who successfully implemented the plan”.

If our people can focus on building again, they will come to stay. There is nothing better than being able to proudly say to your family, “I was there during the construction”. We do great things for society every day, we are a vast lever when it comes to sustainability, and mobility is not possible without infrastructure.

Q: Even if innovation and digitalisation can solve part of the problem, the question still remains: Why do you think young talents should choose the construction industry?

CH: I think a lot has already been said. There is no better job where you can have so much variety. From housing construction, railway construction, fibre optic lines, tunnels, radio masts and power plants for renewable energy: everything has to be built once. We will use remote controls, coordinate robots and minimise resource consumption with data analyses and evaluations. The topics of circular economy, new processes and methods of recycling materials offer additional exciting fields of activity in the industry. Who doesn’t want to be part of shaping the future? It is always a good feeling to be able to say “I was there” about a multitude of buildings that have lasted and can be shown off. An industry with passion and pioneering spirit, what could be better?

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