Exploring The Skilled Trades

Tools, Technology And Changing Trades

Jason Burns
Sr Content Strategist

Posted 04/20/2019

How Tools And Technology Are Changing The Way Tradespeople Work

It's easy in the digital era to forget that the hands of skilled tradespeople built this country. It’s so easy that for the past few decades the education system has been focused solely on preparing high school students for college, neglecting other career possibilities.

This focus on white-collar jobs has fueled a stigma around vocational training and created a gap in the skilled trades so large that there are now more than 250,000 job openings in the building trades industry alone, according to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

Changing the Nature of the Skilled Trades

Interestingly, the same technology that first led to a decrease in vocational school enrollment is now taking the skilled trades to the next level and is becoming as common as traditional construction equipment on trade sites across the country. Modern technology is making tradespeople more productive, more competitive, and more valuable than ever before.

“It is clear that digital skills will have a big impact on worker and workplace productivity,” said Sarah Watts-Rynard, Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.  “The introduction of increasingly high-tech equipment and machinery requires skilled tradespeople to have competencies well beyond hands-on, mechanical skills.”

Below are three concrete examples of how modern technology is changing the nature of the skilled trades and creating a demand for tech-savvy skilled tradespeople who are at least as good with a smartphone as they are with a hammer.

Project Management Software

Managing any construction project is no small feat. There are always countless deadlines to meet, budgets to work within, and goals to accomplish. Modern construction companies rely on special construction management software to plan, organize, and manage everything from estimation to scheduling to budgets to communication to decision making.

Construction management software is often used in conjunction with building information modeling software, whose purpose is to give architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools they need to manage buildings and infrastructure more efficiently. 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The commercial use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, has skyrocketed in recent years. Drones are rapidly replacing traditional land-surveillance methods in the construction industry because they provide superior endurance and intelligence on job sites. Additionally, drones help eliminate dangers and safety hazards, leading to drastic increases in worksite safety.

“When trouble arises, something got covered up, or when conditions change and we have to look at where something was, a picture is worth a thousand words--and a thousand dollars,” said Ryan Moret, who works as the field manager for McCarthy Building Companies and always carries a drone next to his trusty work boots.

Mixed Reality

Mixed reality, the merging of real and virtual worlds using augmented and virtual reality, may be the future of entertainment, but manufacturing, agriculture, and other sectors already deploy it daily. 

For example, GE partnered with Upskill to implement the Skylight augmented reality platform with Google Glass-- a brand of smart glasses developed by Google. This application removes distractions to help workers focus on their tasks in warehouses and manufacturing facilities globally. The result? A 34 percent increase in productivity and meaningful quality improvements in wind turbine assembly.

Besides helping workers become more agile and effective in their jobs, mixed reality is also providing hands-on experience with real-time feedback during welding, machining, and heavy-equipment training.

Conclusion

The embrace of modern technology by the skilled trades has generated a demand for tech-savvy skilled tradespeople who are willing and able to upgrade their skills to stay at the cutting edge of their industries. Considering how large the gap in the skilled trades currently is, it’s safe to say that the demand for hard-working individuals who can keep up with the rapid pace of technological progress will only increase in the future.