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Can Construction Be Automated?

With the latest developments in robotics and artificial intelligence, the construction industry could see over 600,000 jobs lost to robots, says a recent report from international consultancy and construction company Mace. Calling it the fourth industrial revolution – or “Industry 4.0” – the report predicts that construction jobs will become increasingly automated by 2040.

Robots are just one facet of this change, with other new technologies also contributing to the digital revolution: artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and autonomous machinery are emerging areas that will see both site- and desk-based work become progressively more reliant on technology.

Benefits of Automation

Productivity within construction has been a key issue for many years, and efforts to improve these levels have been generally ineffective. Automating processes is seen as one way to dramatically improve productivity, whilst also improving health and safety, increasing time and cost certainty, and reducing environmental impacts.

The benefit to the UK economy for projects that are finished on time and within budget – as well as the boost to delivering major infrastructure projects and initiatives – could be significant; the report estimates this to be worth £25bn a year.

Reduced health and safety risks to staff is another huge benefit of automation, and begs the question whether people should be undertaking roles that can be done more safely by a robot. The HSE reported that 80,000 workers suffered from work-related illnesses or conditions, and a further 64,000 were injured and 30 killed in 2017. The estimated lost time totalled 2.3 million working days with a projected cost to society of £1bn. But automated processes are likely to be a major contributor to drastically reducing these figures.

Not Everything Can Be Automated

While everyone would agree that robots have their uses, the truth is that automation has its limits. A robot cannot make decisions in the same way that an experienced site manager can when the site ground conditions are not what was expected. An estimating programme won’t add value the way a skilled quantity surveyor does with early cost advice, saving their client wasted time and money.

Can artificial intelligence build relationships and negotiate a positive end to a bitter dispute like an expert claims consultant? Or interpret data and persuade others of its usefulness or meaning? It’s possible, but unlikely.

Act Now

With that said, the digital revolution is coming. These changes in technology mean that new skills will be required to manage new ways of working. Some roles will disappear, while new ones will be created. Construction professionals need to embrace these changes, and keep the bigger, strategic picture in mind – there will always be a need for a multi-skilled, adaptive workforce in construction.

The best way to prepare is to keep your skills up to date. Consider the abilities in your field that technology won’t be able to do, and make yourself an expert in them – thereby making yourself invaluable when the robots arrive.

If you’re looking to broaden your expertise, why not take a look at our Jobs page. With over 500 UK vacancies for quantity surveyors, claims managers and many other roles, upskilling could be easier than you think.


Steve Thomas
Operations Director, UK
I am responsible for the delivery of Search Assignments, Business Development and UK Candidate Attraction Strategy. Based in Leicester and Melton Mowbray and have 20+ years experience in construction recruitment. I focus on recruiting for construction jobs in the East Midlands, West Midlands and across London and South East England.
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Email: steve@maximrecruitment.com

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