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Alicia Farag

Digital Construction Technology Can Alleviate the Workforce Shortage Facing the Utility Industry

Sept. 21, 2021
With the deployment of digital construction applications, three ways that technology can alleviate the consequences of workforce shortages in the utility industry can be identified.

The utility and energy sectors have been grappling with the consequences of a retiring workforce and employees taking 30 years of knowledge with them when they walk out the door. This trend was already in full swing but has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. The pending infrastructure bill, while good for the construction industry in general, will only increase the demand for skilled construction workers adding to the pressure on the utility industry.

The utility sector can alleviate some of these pressures through the smart deployment of technology. Through our deployment of digital construction applications we have identified three ways that technology can alleviate the consequences of workforce shortages in the utility industry. 

Attracting the Next Generation Workforce

The utility industry needs to attract the next generation of talent to replace the retiring workforce. Younger employees expect their jobs to utilize technology in the same way that they use technology in school and in their personal lives. They access educational material online and take notes on tablets. They book flights and deposit checks on their smartphones. And so they are disappointed when they are asked to sketch as-builts on paper and manually fill out material lists.  

Utilities can implement digital construction technologies to create a modern and integrated workflow that eliminates paper, phone calls, and duplicative data entry. Utilities need to provide attractive career opportunities to incentivize younger workers to join the workforce that will build the country’s infrastructure and digital construction technology can be an important tool to achieve this. 

Increase Efficiencies

Technology can of course improve efficiencies and reduce the need for labor intensive tasks, but field construction work has unique features that make digital workflows particularly more efficient. Construction environments, unlike offices, are often remote, noisy, crowded, and chaotic. These factors increase the probability that forms, documents, procedures, and data will be incomplete, inaccurate, or lost. Outdated engineering designs, missing pages from a material list, and illegible instructions are just a few examples of how manual paper based processes increase the labor required to complete simple tasks.

Closing projects out can be an incredible labor intensive and inefficient process. Analysts and technicians receive folders full of hand drawings, notes, and paper forms that must be deciphered and re-entered into back-office systems. This process usually requires multiple phone calls, kick-backs, and guess work to complete. Beyond labor inefficiencies, this process increases the amount of time to get data into systems and creates significant bottlenecks that prevent the next task from beginning.  

Digital construction technology can deliver, capture, and submit data to and from the field through integrated workflows to improve labor efficiencies. Digital job packets that are integrated with back-end systems can deliver complete and continuously updated work orders, designs, and work orders to field crews to ensure they have access to the most accurate information. Field crews can capture data digitally to eliminate duplicative data entry and with automated validations to increase data quality. Digital completion packages can dramatically increase the efficiency of closing out projects through automated reconciliation and automated system of record updates. One utility reported a 70% decrease in the time required to close-out projects and a 90% reduction in time required for material reconciliation using Locusview’s digital construction technology.

Productize Worker Knowledge

When experienced workers retire they take their knowledge with them. While training is an essential part of career development, knowledge and industry best practices can also be built into technology and software applications to ensure information and workflows are standardized. For example, digital as-builtin applications can automatically validate appropriate burial depth for electric lines with high accuracy GPS and can check for UV exposure limits on plastic pipe based on material traceability barcodes.  

Building and constructing the electric smart grid will require new and fast changing installation procedures for intelligent components. Digital construction technology can ensure field crews are able to access accurate and updated installation procedures in real-time in the ditch or in the air assembling a pole top assembly.   

Attracting younger workers, decreasing labor intensive and repetitive tasks, and building knowledge into workflow driven applications can be accomplished through the implementation of digital construction technologies. The increasing threat of worker shortages for the utility and energy industries is only going to increase and we need creative and innovative solutions to ensure we can attract and retain the talent to build the infrastructure of the future for our country.  

Alicia Farag is co-founder and CEO at Locusview.

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