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By Karen L. Edwards, RT3
The coronavirus pandemic has lasted longer than most could have imagined. So, what is the outlook for our industry and how can contractors ensure that they emerge successfully on the other side? Let’s take a look.
At the end of 2019, Deloitte released an engineering and construction outlook that predicted market growth would continue into 2020 despite cost pressures, and the labor shortage would not be going away anytime soon. When COVID-19 entered the picture, things changed dramatically with project timelines upended or even stopping altogether and nearly a million construction jobs lost in April alone.
The company recently released its midyear outlook exploring challenges this year and noting how contractors can remain competitive and emerge stronger when the pandemic ends.
The outlook reports that, “the E&C industry is likely to face several other short-term challenges amid the pandemic, such as delays or projects being put on hold, difficulty obtaining permits for projects, a rise in project cancellations, an increase in claims and litigation, and difficulty in procuring materials and equipment such as structural steel and glass from Asia."
Project timelines have been affected and contracts are being closely examined and even renegotiated to address the coronavirus, with companies wanting to protect themselves in these uncertain times. Job sites are changing as well with the need for enhanced safety procedures and sanitization practices. The report predicts that this could accelerate the shift to off-site construction and modular practices.
Digital solutions deliver hope
Construction firms are quickly finding that technology can play an important role in their ability to be more efficient, work remotely and enhance the safety of their jobsites. Many larger contractors are using artificial intelligence-based technologies that can help track workers' behavior, ensure social distancing and prevent accidents.
Automation has the potential to improve safety and efficiency. Robots have been developed that can lay bricks at jobsites, and on the rooftop, tools like automatic welders and machines that install rolls of modified bitumen are being used to reduce the number of workers needed.
Deloitte estimates that the extent to which contractors adopt technology will determine how well they are able to recover from the pandemic and even thrive. Roofing Technology Think Tank (RT3) member Cotney Consulting Group (CCG) agrees that technology is key to recovery, writing, “Technology helps a business understand its market, determine its most profitable projects, predict future sales, and learn how to match the best estimator/sales/operations or service tech team for maximum profit and customer satisfaction."
Thriving on technology
Some contractors have been early adopters of technology which paid off when working remotely became the norm. Rackley Roofing, winner of the 2019 RT3 Innovator of the Year Award, has found success through technology — with work remaining steady and business operations staying on track during the pandemic.
In an interview with CCG, Rackley Roofing COO Michelle Boykin shared why she thinks many roofing contractors are reluctant to implement technology. “It’s easy to get stuck in the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mentality. Roofing is already behind the game in technology, so many companies are still old school. The problem with this is that these companies will get left behind, while those who have adopted and adapted to new technologies will have a better chance of succeeding.”
Rackley Roofing has found success using virtual reality for safety training, Slack for more purposeful communications, remote assistance through the Microsoft HoloLens, and understanding their jobs better by capturing field data through technology. Their fleet of vehicles are enabled with GPS and video systems for improved safety and tracking company vehicles. This tech has helped them respond faster to emergency leak calls because they can see who is closest to the location experiencing a problem.
Members of RT3 have shared advice for implementing technologies into roofing businesses. Perhaps the most important is that you shouldn’t try to do it all at once. Start small and be sure to take advantage of the support and assistance offered by technology vendors. RT3 contractor members have generously offered their insights in articles, webinars and presentations, most of which can be found on the RT3 blog.
Don’t forget about the support that your distributors and manufacturers can provide. Many of them offer apps and online tools that can help you run your businesses better. Often there is little to no charge to use the platforms because your suppliers want you to be successful.