11 November 2020

How do we transition to the future of work in infrastructure?

Written by Anil Sawhney, Director for Infrastructure at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
11 November 2020

Earlier this year, the Global Infrastructure Hub, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, hosted a webinar on Infrastructure Futures. This was based on the findings from our recent report on this topic and the four key infrastructure trends that will shape our future.

During this webinar, Anil Sawhney, Director for Infrastructure at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), provided his perspectives on the challenges and solutions for transitioning the workforce to meet future needs of the industry. You can view Anil’s original webinar presentation here (8:31min).

After the webinar, we caught-up with Anil to delve deeper into this topic, and to discuss the outcomes from the RICS and Autodesk study on the Future of Work in Construction.

GI Hub: Why is it important to consider the future of work?

Anil: The industry faces an enormous skills gap given the need to build 13,000 buildings each day between now and 2050 to support an expected population of 7.7 billion people living in cities. This, in addition to the large proportion of the construction industry’s workforce that will retire over the next decade, brings about a massive skills shortage that will drive up costs and reduce efficiency and profitability.

GI Hub: What are the gaps that need to be filled in transitioning to the future of work?

Anil: As an industry we have identified a critical need for digital transformation in the design and construction of infrastructure, but we have not considered who will be ‘teaching’ this to the future workforce. We need a pipeline of skilled graduates with the capability to consider a project from the design stage through to the end, and to effectively integrate data and technology throughout. We also need managers to re-skill and re-tool to upgrade their expertise. For example, if you were to ask today’s project manager to deploy robots that interact with other machines and humans, most project managers would lack the skills needed for that environment.  

GI Hub: Can we simply outsource these skills to experts?

Anil: Technology deployment and data gathering can always be outsourced to technology companies and service providers. However, to realise the their full benefits you must be able to draw insights from the data and apply them to make better decisions. This can only happen when you have the domain knowledge and the organisational context – something that an external company will not have. For this reason, it is critical that data and technology skills are embedded within the organisation rather than relying on outside experts.  

GI Hub: What are the biggest pain points in achieving this transition?

Anil: Outsourcing to experts results in the delivery of fragmented solutions. What we are looking for are model-driven integrated solutions across the supply chain, the project lifecycle and between projects. For example, if we use a drone to inspect a single bridge in isolation of the whole system, there is no ability to use that data to benefit other assets or processes. As an industry, we often make the same mistakes from project-to-project, better data and technology integration can help avoid that.

GI Hub: Of the new roles you identified in the Future of Work report, which of them will be the hardest to fill?

Anil: Robotics or automation will be the biggest challenge. None of our engineering programs teach mechatronics, robotics or analytics in a holistic way. Currently, the industry is utilising robotics and automation skills developed for the manufacturing sector rather than for construction, and this is a gap that needs to be bridged. For example, a robot designed for an Amazon warehouse is unlikely to be suitable on a dusty construction site. Workers in robotics and automation need expertise specifically focused on solving problems for the construction industry.

GI Hub: Who would take ownership of the integration of this data across the project lifecycle?

Anil: The Chief Data Officer. They will be responsible for creating the wisdom that will help project teams drive better performance and help avoid decisions that are blockers or lead to bad performance. The data officer within an organisation will help convert data into information, knowledge, and understanding. Data is central to the digitalization of our sector. Therefore, we must focus on common principles and standards and value data and demand data-enriched processes, practices, and assets.

GI Hub: What needs to happen to set us on the right path to the future of work?

Anil: We jointly need to work on a competency map and determine the skills needed to deliver the future of infrastructure. Industrialised construction, Construction 4.0 and InfraTech are some of the themes that we must address as set ourselves on the right path. This is where the public and private sectors need to partner with academia, as the right skills and competencies may not be developed if this was left to academia alone. Public and private sector partners will provide the perspectives on the entry pathways into the profession and give visibility over the skills and competencies that are in demand.

GI Hub: What are the next steps for RICS following on from the Future of Work report?

Anil: We are working with technology providers, our chartered members, academia, and various construction programs to determine how skills for these new roles can be incorporated into curricula within the universities. As a profession we must evaluate and review the ways in which the professionals of the future join the profession to ensure they remain relevant - now, and in the future. We must also recognise that lifelong learning is crucial to developing and enhancing competencies. As we create new entry paths and expand the profession in emerging markets, we will only succeed if at the same time we champion diversity within the industry.

About RICS

We are RICS. Everything we do is designed to effect positive change in the built and natural environments. Through our respected global standards, leading professional progression and our trusted data and insights, we promote and enforce the highest professional standards in the development and management of land, real estate, construction, and infrastructure. Our work with others provides a foundation for confident markets, pioneers better places to live and work and is a force for positive social impact.

GI Hub contact

If you want to know more about the Global Infrastructure Hub and our Infrastructure Futures work, please get in touch with Monica Bennett at monica.bennett@gihub.org.

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