How is the digital era creating a divide in the construction sector?


As the world increasingly turns to digital technology to help us work more efficiently, the implications of the relentless application of new tech-driven processes and software will not always be positive.

Behind the glossy marketing of tech companies who naturally want to 'sell the dream' of what their solutions can provide, often with compelling reasons to buy, lies a more problematic cultural issue that is dividing construction.

It is an issue that Stephen Pilling, MD of the Quantum Group, a Leeds and Manchester based firm of quantity surveyors and contract management specialists, believes is amplifying the 'them and us' culture in the industry and impacting on the ability of the vast majority of contractors and sub-contractors to recruit and retain staff.

Stephen believes that whilst the application of digital technology in the design, build and maintenance of buildings has been a force for good in many areas, it has largely become the preserve of what he describes an 'upper class' of companies operating in the industry. These are firms such as Tier 1 contractors and specialist consultants whose businesses are more likely to have the financial resource to be able to invest in the latest software solutions than companies are lower down the tier system - particularly SME sub-contractors or labour-only subbies.

This is creating a 'digital divide' in construction which is reinforcing a class system that has long existed, but it also creating a false perception of what working on construction projects is actually like - i.e. the virtual world versus reality.

Stephen says, "My introduction to the industry was back in the 1980s and in those days building sites didn't even have fences around them. I was exposed to this as an 'exciting playground' and that attracted me to the industry.

"Already coming from a trade background family - my father was a craftsman - it was already kind of in my DNA that some form of entry to the construction industry would be my route through life.

"I looked at surveying and saw that it would be a more academic route into the industry - and I was attracted to it.

"I think that what we see today is that those 'playgrounds' are no longer accessible, for all the right reasons, but I also think that it gives an alternative perception of what a construction environment looks like. Because young people are not being exposed to this environment at a young age as I was.

"How has that changed the dynamic of the industry a person's perception of where they fit within that tier system and the class system?

"Today's education system is different insofar as young people now see much more of a virtual world - a digital technological world - whereas my world was very practical. And I think this has had an impact on my profession."

This is one of the topics Stephen will be exploring with students who are studying for a quantity surveying degree as part of an upcoming collaboration with a Yorkshire university. He hopes this will enable his business and the profession as a whole to develop a greater understanding of how the next generation of QSs perceive the industry, and find ways to bridge the gap between their perceptions versus reality to improve future recruitment and staff retention rates.

To find talk about this topic and any of the challenges facing the UK construction industry, why not get in touch?

To find out more about this topic and any of the challenges facing the UK construction industry, why not get in touch?

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