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    Where robots and computers look set to take Australian construction jobs

    Nathan Johnson

    Design jobs are shifting overseas, construction is moving offsite, skilled labour is becoming more robotised and skill requirements are shifting to the digital - these are some of the conclusions of recent studies into the future of building industry employment.

    In addition to the recent news that Australian design jobs are under pressures not seen since 1990, a new study from  UK’s Oxford University suggests in the future many skilled trades are also likely to fall victim to the trend of offsite and increasingly robotised construction.

    ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ report measured the vulnerability of 702 occupations in terms of their likelihood to be replaced by various forms of computerisation, including within robotics, sophisticated data-scanning software or autonomous vehicles.

    The research considered factors such as the degree of manual dexterity, originality, social perceptiveness and negotiation skills required in the role. 

    The study ranked the vulnerability of jobs on a scale of “0” to “1” with a value of “1” as highly vulnerable. Construction managers rank at 154 (out of 702) with a score of 0.071, while supervisors of construction trades score 0.17.

    Of interest to the industry: 

    Occupation

    Probability

    Occupation

    Probability

    Mechanical engineers 

    0.011

    Construction and Related Workers

    0.71

    Architects

    0.018

    Carpenters

    0.72

    Civil Engineers

    0.019

    Painters

    0.75

    Interior Designers

    0.022

    Floor Layers

    0.79

    Landscape Architects

    0.045

    Brick Masons

    0.82

    Construction Managers

    0.071

    Labourers

    0.88

    Electrical Engineers

    0.1

    Roofers

    0.90

    Electricians

    0.15

    Crane and Tower Operators

    0.90

    Construction Trades Supervisors

    0.17

    Electrical Installers (inc lifts)

    0.91

    Engineering Technicians

    0.24

    Model Makers

    0.93

    Plumbers and Pipefitters

    0.35

    Accountants

    0.94

    Surveyors

    0.38

    Estate Agents

    0.97

    Mechanical Engineering Technicians

    0.38

    Insurance Underwriters

    0.99

    Construction and Building Inspectors

    0.63

       

    Source: Oxford Martin Future of Employment report

    Also highlighting a shift in building construction processes and reporting a move to offsite construction models is another study from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) called Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030.

    At the same time as we report on prominent developments with prefab building projects in Australia, the UK commission suggested that there will be an increase in offsite construction in the future, with buildings being manufactured by robots offsite before being fitted onsite by a smaller team of construction workers.

    The report states:

    “An increase in the uptake of offsite construction (buildings being manufactured in factory environments offsite) could lead to changes in work within the sector. If automation accelerates offsite construction (for instance where building modules can be constructed by robots), smaller teams of individuals will be involved in the process and will instead focus on on-site construction and assembly. The impact on the quantity of new jobs is unclear. Whilst increased off-site construction is likely to lead to a growth in productivity, employment growth could be constrained.”

    As a result, the study suggests that employment opportunities in the digital sector of construction will increase as information technology drives a new wave of automation:

    “Individuals in the construction sector will increasingly need a broader set of skills as the increasing implementation of ICT throughout the whole construction process demands up-skilling to the specific.”

    Whilst both studies painted a particularly grim picture for the future of current construction jobs, both highlighted that robotisation does not necessarily indicate a complete lack of human participation in the industry’s future.

    “Many occupations being affected by these developments are still far from fully computerisable, meaning that the computerisation of some tasks will simply free up time for human labour to perform other tasks. Nonetheless, the trend is clear: computers increasingly challenge human labour in a wide range of cognitive tasks,” said Peter Glover, senior research manager at the UKCES.

    Glover also pointed out that some construction trade roles would be resistant to robotisation, noting that “it’s hard to imagine how you could replace a plumber going into someone’s home.”

    Similarly, the Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030 reports that an increased demand in the future for building efficiency and other eco-friendly solutions could actually drive employment and at the very least see new jobs in the industry.

    “An increased demand for building efficiency and other eco-friendly solutions such as water efficient measures drive employment in areas of installation and retrofitting such.”

    “Increase in the use of self-build projects and rise in demand for associated construction skills needed, such as ability to handle and use new materials.”

    See the full report from the University of Oxford here:

    The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030 can be found here:

    Cover image:‚Äč hd wallpapers. 

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