Digital Builder Ep 43: The Reality of Construction’s Changing Workforce

Now is a tremendous time to be working in construction. Collaboration is on the rise. Digitalization continues to make inroads. We're becoming more eco-friendly. 

But, like most industries, there are still areas for improvement. In construction, some of the biggest challenges include attracting diverse talent, promoting equitable working conditions, and being more efficient with project delivery. We dive into each of these things and more in this week’s episode of Digital Builder.

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On this podcast episode

Camille Hardin, Project Manager at Flint Builders, Inc., joins us to discuss these challenges. As a woman in construction and someone who advocates for diversity and inclusion, Camille has an important point of view on how the construction industry can improve and evolve.

Let's dive in. 

Opportunities for Impactful Change in the Construction Industry 

According to Camille, one of the biggest opportunities for impactful change in construction is attracting diverse talent and growing our workforce. 

"It's important to look at the diversity of the workforce and how we're finding new talent as we need more people to replace those who are retiring," she explains.

In addition to bringing in people with different ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds, it's important to break stereotypes and embrace diverse skill sets—e.g., introverts vs. extroverts.

"Typically, we think of women as having the soft skills of being the collaborators and the peacemakers and getting everyone together, and men as more assertive. But we need to start looking at why we aren't tailoring everybody to have both these skills. And I think we can create this diversity by looking at different backgrounds," remarks Camille. 

"As we're progressing, it's going to be important to have people of different backgrounds—whether it's gender, race, culture—and bringing those ideas and those perspectives to our teams."

Beyond expanding workforce diversity, Camille emphasizes the importance of giving workers tools and processes to build more efficiently. Part of doing this lies in adopting new project delivery approaches. 

"One of the biggest ones that come to mind is the idea of pre-fabrication. We've been building in certain ways for decades; how can we start looking at new ways to do that?"

Recent Conversations about Women in Construction 

Camille recently spoke at an Autodesk event in support of women, and one of the most common topics that came up was why women were leaving the construction industry. 

"The biggest reason for leaving is harassment and the lack of respect. And I think everyone in that room has experienced that in some form or another," says Camille. 

It's worth noting that harassment and disrespectful behavior don't just come in the form of loud comments and inappropriate actions. Microaggressions (both conscious and unconscious) contribute significantly to why women find it challenging to work in construction. 

Overcoming these issues requires people to bring them to light and make everyone aware of what's not ok in the workplace. 

"It's about educating the entire workforce and having them understand that it can be very frustrating for women to experience these things; we need to encourage everyone to have open ears and have empathy towards others."

Another common topic that came up was deciding to have kids. The prospect of having children can bea daunting one, but it's even more difficult for women in construction because the industry is so male-dominated. 

To attract and retain female talent, the construction sector must find ways to create flexibility and balance in the workplace—whether in the office or on-site. 

"How can we create flexibility, and should you want to go to the trades or stay on site, how can we create benefits and opportunities for women who might want a family in the end?"  

She continues, "How can we start adjusting long work hours to tailor more to a better work-life balance?"

How to be More Equitable when Bringing Teams Together

Solving issues like gender diversity entails going beyond equity.

"It's the idea of equitable, not just equity," says Camille. "Yes, we can all have six weeks of paid family leave as we should, but we still need to understand that there is a biological recovery time for women. How can you still provide that recovery time while still building a career? Not just about motherhood and women, but also a family issue and childcare."

Extending these opportunities doesn't just apply to women. Going back to the importance of attracting workers from different backgrounds, Camille mentions that the construction industry should find ways to make jobs more accessible to people who don't always have the means to live and work in large metropolitan areas.

As Camille points out, "In the San Francisco Bay Area, most middle-class people have no choice but to buy a house or live so far away from the jobs and projects. Many of them are in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose. And so, a lot of these tradespeople are coming in from two hours away."

Camille recommends looking at projects where most people live to make them more accessible. 

She also brought up the idea of pre-fab. "Could you do the majority of all of the work offsite at a more affordable location? That idea of manufacturing that I feel like construction hasn't dove into too much until the past ten years is probably because we didn't have the technology to do it before." 

Pre-fabrication at Flint Builders, Inc.

Speaking of pre-fabrication, Flint Builders has been using pre-fab in many of its projects and has seen great results. 

"It starts with coordination. The biggest cost of any construction project is when you get started and you have to redo something because it either wasn't coordinated or there was a mistake. So when you're talking about pre-fabrication, you're able to have people close by willing to put in extra hours if needed because they don't have to drive so far.

And because pre-fabrication takes place in a controlled environment, teams can build structures more safely and predictably. 

"You can make sure that everything is right, everything is square, everything is plumb so that when you're ready to send it out, you can just put it together," Camille says.

She also brings up the scheduling benefits of doing pre-fab. 

"The amazing thing with pre-fabrication is you can create these pre-fabricated elements while still doing concrete slab on grades, steel, the very basic structure. How much faster can you deliver these projects by doing that, and figuring out these issues early on because you've got the technology to do so?"

When asked about the specific technologies they're using, Camille says Flint's teams are big on collaborating using 3D modeling tools and technology. 

"Taking that model from the architect and starting to put all these elements in there and coordinating that using BIM 360, where you can start putting everything together... it's really amazing. The fact that we can make a 3D model of what this building is going to be, and then stick everything, all the guts inside of it."

She continues, "you can map this all out before you even put a shovel in the ground. You can figure all of this out before any of it's ready to go." 

New podcast episode every week

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week.

If you're interested in creating a more diverse and equitable working environment for your teams so you can attract and retain top talent, catch the full podcast episode of Digital Builder to hear more from Camille. 

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.