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Are digital natives the answer to tech adoption in the construction industry?

By Joe Coleman

The construction industry has long been touted as 'slow to adopt technology'. While this topic is fiercely debated, are we starting to cross the chasm thanks to the next generation?  

From a lack of awareness about the benefits of digital transformation to the sheer number of stakeholders involved in construction processes, the barriers to adopting new tech have long been getting in the way of progress. 

45% of workers are over the age of 45, and there are real concerns about a 'brain drain' happening when these people retire out of the industry, taking their knowledge and experience with them. 

On the flipside, there's a new generation of talent entering the market who are pushing for technology adoption on a scale that the industry hasn't seen before.  

These people are 'digital natives', having grown up with tech quite literally in the palm of their hand.  

I spoke with Bhragan Paramanantham - creator of the awesome 'Last Week in ConTech' newsletter to get his thoughts…

Tech adoption can be tough in the construction industry

J: Are you seeing a shift in technology adoption being driven bottom-up by this new generation, as opposed to what has historically been top-down from decision makers?  

B: It’s hard to say, and it really depends on the individual and it will differ from company to company, but I know the next generation are more attracted to it [technology adoption] but then they lose focus when they realise how hard it is to actually implement solutions and roll things out business wide. 

What you do find is you’ll have a really technical person who is aware of all of the solutions and they may say 'let’s use this really specific piece of design software because it saves me time' but getting it on-site can be difficult. At an enterprise level when companies want to pilot, there are usually legal and data security checks to clear which takes months. On the other side you could have bottom up when there is a clear need and desire for use on a project but that option isn't always available. 

J: That's where people can lose focus as you say… 

B: There are also different things, like there might be a team that’s just really focused on finding solutions to problem statements in the business. Then there’s the data from pilot projects and there may be a team that says 'here are all the pilots we’ve run, let’s review which ones worked out and which ones are we going to scale throughout the business.' 

Are digital natives the answer?

As digital natives join the workforce and start to move into management and decision-making roles, their natural inclination for the latest tech is likely to mean technologies are adopted at a wider level. Some companies are starting this now, having their next-gen field teams influencing and evangelising up but collaborating with the most experienced people in the business remains crucial to ensure wider adoption.  

In an industry where new tech often goes through those extensive pilot procedures and approval processes, seeing change to fruition is different to simply being 'excited about technology'. Time will tell whether these digital natives will truly be able to push technology adoption in an industry that's fairly stuck in its ways. Will buyer fatigue and a saturated solution market win out? And will these digital natives who often have shorter attention spans (thanks TikTok) be able to think more long-term to truly change the industry? 

We're still a long way from a Construction industry that fully embraces the latest tech. We'll be watching this situation closely as it unfolds, and helping our ConTech clients build the teams they need to harness and work with this tech-savvy next generation. 

Keep your eyes peeled for more from my chat with Bhragan coming soon where we talk about Elon Musk, the Moon and what makes a great ConTech founder…