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The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Is the Future Bright?

Blog 008 The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Andrew Kingsley

Never has the world of construction and engineering looked so bright and so exciting. For decades it has suffered a slump, but with new technology and new investment, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) looks set to radically alter the way we live and work.

And the changes have already started. Here in the UK we currently have  some of the biggest construction projectsunderway: Crossrail- 26 miles of underground tunnels will connect London like never before with the Elizabeth Line; Hinkley Point C - the nuclear power station is set to provide power to 7% of UK homes, and the Thames Tideway Tunnel will replace a 150-year old sewer system.  It is predicted that in the next 5 years, the UK will have 230,000 construction jobs to fill.

So what does the future look like?

Political Changes

  • No more PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deals are to be signed. Following the fall of Carillion it’s uncertain about what this will be replaced with in future.

  • Brexit. A hard Brexit could mean an even bigger skills gap with the loss of migrant workers, despite the government’s pledges to support skilled workers entering the UK from abroad. But no one really knows what will happen yet and it is this uncertainty that is starting to take its toll.

  • Skills Gap. In the CBI Education and Skills annual Report 66% of companies expressed concernabout the lack of skilled workers to fill vacancies. According to the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) the construction industry will need to find 157,000 new recruits by 2021 in order to fulfil new contracts.

  • Apprenticeship levy: the latest budget has promised £695 million to support apprenticeships and a rise in the Apprentice minimum wage. Small businesses will also now only have to pay 5% of apprentice training costs, as opposed to 10%.

  • Fibre and 5G - more funding has been allocated to boost this across the UK.

 

Technology

 

  • Building Information Modelling (BIM) - enables contractors to conduct a virtual walkthrough of a site. 4D modelling will add a scheduling layer to the model.

  • Drones: the use of unmanned aerial vehicles has already proved popular in site surveys and assessments.

  • Construction sequence similations - that provide a holistic view of how a building interacts with its environment.

  • Cobots: mixed teams of robots and humans.

  • AI: AI applications are already speeding up planning stages, but according to research by McKinsey, it is still behind. It has potential, however, to tackle costing and scheduling problems to dramatically improve a project’s lifecycle.

  • “Blockchain could assist the resolution of construction disputes with the use of smart contracts, it could also significantly optimise the BIM workflow and promote collaboration, we also mustn’t forget the advantage of Bitcoin, which could again boost collaboration and transparency.” (PBC today)

Advanced Materials

  • Self-Healing Concrete. Made with tiny capsules of sodium silicate, if there is any damage to the concrete, these capsules burst and fill the crack with gel.

  • Smart Concrete: made with carbon fibre - engineers are able to measure and sense flaws in structures.

  • Electron-beam lithography: this enables engineers to construct carbon tubes with walls only a nanometer thick.  They can then be used the structurally enhance the strength of buildings.

  • Graphene:  this material can be both thin, light and conductive and its applications are limitless.

Sustainable construction

Smart Cities

  • Think heated pavements, blockchain powered communities.

  • Autonomous vehicles: “Autonomous vehicles are going to have a huge impact on the world's infrastructure. Huge amounts of area that is dedicated to car parking will almost vanish overnight as a result.” Jason Pomeroy, Dezeen.

  • Vertical farms

 

So how can recruiters, clients and candidates get ready for these potentially seismic changes?

"The best thing we can do is to make ourselves ready for it in a very proactive way and that means training our people... we need to upskill one million existing workers in the industrial and manufacturing sector... so they can transition from tasks that might be displaced to, for example, managing or programming robots." 

(Juergen Maier, CEO Siemens UK, October 2017)

 

The World Economic Forum recommends the following for companies:

 

  • Build skills and bolster the talent pipeline

  • Work on the Integration and collaboration of both people and data

  • Learn, adopt and implement new technologies

 

For potential future candidates:

 

  • Follow industry news

  • Look to continually grow and expand your skills

  • Look at industry predictions of new job roles

  • Research what UK companies are doing, what technology they are using etc.

 

For more insight into the future of construction: