Few construction employers believe new technologies will cut jobs

Technological change may increase the headcount of the engineering construction industry workforce rather than reduce it, according to new research from the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB).

Of 800 sector employers surveyed by the industry skills body, twice as many said new and emerging technologies – such as automation and artificial intelligence – will see their workforce grow over the next three years compared to those who think it will shrink (20% as against 9%).

The majority (81%) cited higher efficiency, as well as improved precision (65%) and new business opportunities (55%) as likely benefits.

However, employers also face major challenges to harnessing new technologies and processes, including time (34%) and resource (30%) constraints and a lack of required skills among the existing workforce (19%).

On the impact of new technologies on job roles, 62% of surveyed employers expect to see more demand for engineering-related technicians; 59% expect to see more demand for engineering and science professionals; and 54% expect greater demand for skilled mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and electronic trades.

Surveyed on challenges they faced in adopting new technologies:

  • 34% said lack of time and 30% lack of resources were the biggest challenges in adopting new technologies;
  • 19% of employers said their workforce lacks the skills to adopt new technologies;
  • 16% of companies believe training courses are not at the cutting edge of industry needs;
  • 14% feel there is a lack of readily available training courses;
  • 24% of employees see no challenges in adopting new technologies;
  • 20% claim new technology is not immediately relevant to their business.

The survey also showed that 42% of employers already use digital technologies, such as big data, augmented reality or virtual reality, and 15% use low carbon technologies.

Commenting on the survey results, Chris Claydon, chief executive of the ECITB, said: “Technology is a major driver of change across the engineering construction industry and will impact on all sectors – from oil and gas, to renewables to pharmaceuticals. With the industry set to grow by 33,000 jobs in the next decade, we must ensure the workforce is future proofed. This means making sure companies can recruit new talent with advanced digital skills and upskilling the current workforce in the use of new technologies, so that employers can maximise the opportunities Industry 4.0 presents.

“This report throws up some unexpected results, with more confidence around the impact of technology on job numbers than we might have expected and positive views of the impact on productivity and profitability of businesses.

“However, we know that, especially for smaller companies, recruitment challenges and skills shortages are a particular concern. We will continue to develop new training standards to support emerging technologies, such as our industrial drone operator training, and support training providers to equip learners with in-demand technological skills.”

The report, The Impact of Technological Change on the Engineering Construction Industry, is the second of a two-part study being published by ECITB. The findings are based on fieldwork conducted by Pye Tait Consulting between July and October 2018, including a telephone survey of more than 800 employers.

The first report, The Engineering Construction Industry Labour Market Outlook, explored the challenges faced by industry, identifying a growing skill gap where employers struggle to recruit candidates with the right skills and experience.

The new report is available to download here.

Image: Pop Nukoonrat/

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