ConExpo 2011: What New Rabbits in the Hat?
Using ConExpo as an historical bookmark, in 1999, we saw attempts to replace mechanically operated hydraulic controls with electro-hydraulic joysticks, but as many of you will recall, their acceptance was underwhelming. Ditto the use of digital displays, where what began as digital signals were used to mimic their more familiar analog cousins.
By ConExpo 2002, the worm had turned, joysticks were in, and machine guidance and control systems were drawing interest from the attendees. Operators who three years before had laughed at the idea that joysticks could replace levers were now switching over to the electro-hydraulic amen corner.
In 2005, the equipment manufacturers stepped to the plate with great advances to their electro-hydraulic systems, while the software and GPS/laser systems providers focused on job-site integration routines. Attendees were curious but cautious as to whether the cost of an unfamiliar system was worth the money and effort.
ConExpo 2008 signaled that the value of technology systems in construction productivity was no longer at issue. Phase one of the digital revolution was over. Equipment manufacturers and software providers showed up with so much in the way of new and exciting releases that attendees were overwhelmed by their promise of huge increases in productivity.
Then came the downturn that has messed with our lives for the past three years, signaling that the way we’ve worked in the past just may not cut it in the future. The largest changes are not going to be in the machines and the wonderful technologies that are now making their presence felt, but while they’re part of the equation, the critical element confronting your operation lies in the fundamental soundness of your work force in getting the most out of the tools you give them.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been planning and assigning articles for our June issue that is devoted entirely to technology. While in most cases the technologies themselves are evolutions of those we looked at last June, this year’s offering will take us in a different direction, shining a spotlight on user benefits rather than product features.
What has emerged from this exercise is my firm belief that training is the most overlooked factor in the entire construction process, a situation whose seriousness is increasing dramatically here in what we hope is the depth of the depression, and if allowed to continue will almost certainly guarantee nearly insurmountable problems when we emerge.
Unless you are Superman or Godzilla jacked up on steroids, you are not the be-all-end-all of your success. Yes, you’re the one responsible for the operation, but it’s your people who will make or break it. And this means everyone from the person who answers the phone in the front office, the engineers and computer jockeys in the back office, and—out on the job site—your project managers, supervisors, equipment operators, maintenance people, and the guys with shovels. So the question is that of how ready your organization is to meet the challenges from your competitors, who are at this moment wrestling with what it will take to gain even the slightest advantage over you.
I’m going to suggest that employees of the future for successful contractors will be considerably different from those of the past, where many if not most came from rural backgrounds that included farming or construction-oriented practices, or had received heavy equipment operating experience in the military. With the bulk of our entry-level work force coming from an urban background, those days are pretty much over, with the exception of workers from Mexico or Central America who do not share the technical, educational, or societal grounding of those whom they are replacing.
As I see it, there are four levels of challenges facing your workforce today and ever more so in the future:
- Basic educational skills (language and math)
- Basic construction knowledge
- Detailed machine and/or data management knowledge
- Overall productivity management skills
There are many subsets of these and perhaps other subheads that I’ve missed, but I’m certain there are programs available to meet them all.
What amounts to the digital revolution in construction has moved ahead so rapidly in little more than a decade that in many cases our ability to adapt many of its features into our operations has not been able to keep pace. So this leads to some questions to consider:
- What do your employees need to know before they use technologies that will make you money?
- Can all your operators and employees take advantage of new technologies?
- And in both cases, if not, why not?
Author's Bio: John Trotti is the Group Editor for Forester Media.