Digital Builder Ep 81: How Data Visualization Keeps People Centered in Construction

I’ll cut right to the chase: this Digital Builder episode is about people.

While we love digital tools and cutting-edge tech, the fact is that people are—and will continue to be—the center of everything we do in the construction industry. 

This is why we constantly have conversations about attracting and retaining talent. The labor shortage is an extremely pressing concern, and we must take innovative and proactive steps to address it.

Here to discuss ideas on accomplishing that is Jacob Skrobarczyk, VDC Tech Lead at DPR Construction. Jacob is incredibly passionate about the construction industry, and he shares what he and his team are doing to attract and keep more folks in construction. 

Check out our conversation below. 

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You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts. 

On this episode

We discuss:

  • Construction’s perception problem
  • Why data visualization is so impactful
  • How DPR is approaching innovation and the adoption of new technology
  • Keeping people as the center of the industry
  • Improving benefits and apprenticeship programs for craft workers
  • How to highlight non-linear career paths in Construction

Construction's PR problem

Construction, says Jacob, "has a PR problem" and adds that there are so many things that make our industry great but go unrecognized by the public. 

"I think a job in construction is incredible. If you look at some of the podcasts on self-optimization, a lot of them tell you that you need to get morning sunlight, get your steps in, be part of a team, and make an impact on your community. All of that is in the construction industry. It's a remarkable industry to be a part of."

Unfortunately, we don't always do a good job of conveying those advantages to people outside of AEC. 

If we want to solve the labor shortage, we need to get better at promoting these benefits and actively work to change the industry's image.

"We have such an opportunity to shift the narrative. I've yet to see a film that portrays construction like how it really is. This is a massive multiplayer game, right? It's Legend of Zelda in real life. There are challenges everywhere, but you have the tools to solve them," he says.

Jacob also brings up how far our industry has come technology-wise. 

"[When I first started in the industry,] we had this presentation on BIM, which at that point I thought was similar to Microsoft Word training or something. We got into it, and it was models. And I was like, boom. It unlocked all this potential talent that I couldn't apply in an analog world. It's the reason I'm in the industry today."

He continues, "I think there are a lot of talented folks who don't even know the things we're a part of or the tools that Autodesk can provide. Everyone is starting to use these tools to connect with one another. I think that's pretty compelling, but there isn't enough messaging around it.”

How can we bridge the perception gap?

In addition to changing the narrative and busting antiquated views about the construction industry, Jacob says we can further bridge the perception gap by making life easier for those who are already in the construction field.

One idea is to make data more accessible and provide users with tools to reduce stress and pain points in their day.

"You get this perception that everybody's angry at the field. And I think a lot of the anger and the frustration stems from not having the right information at the right time. And so the more we can democratize that data and get better visuals so people aren't planning one day ahead of time, then that stress can slowly change." 

We can also enhance connections between current professionals and potential recruits by highlighting diverse career paths within the industry, particularly those that aren’t as visible to the public.

Jacob says, "From my perspective, I'm recruiting engineering graduates from the University of Texas, but connecting those engineering graduates directly with those superintendents that may have engineering degrees and pulling them out of the shadows."

"The more we can bring those folks out of the shadows, out of the job sites to be part of the recruiting journey, the better connections we can make."

Gearing up for the next generation of builders

As more construction workers approach the latter part of their careers, the industry needs to consider how to transfer knowledge and prepare for the next generation of talent.

One best practice is pairing experienced project personnel, such as superintendents, with junior team members like new project engineers. Doing so paves the way for mutual knowledge exchange and mentorship. The seasoned construction pros can learn more about technology, while younger generations can pick up timeless skills and wisdom to help them succeed.

Jacob agrees and reflects on his own experiences working with younger superintendents and construction professionals. 

"We have to start preparing for this next generation of builders who will want more than we can even provide for them."

Ideas on how firms can take better care of workers

Improving recruitment is great, but let's not forget that keeping workers in the industry is just as critical. DPR Construction recognizes the importance of employee retention, which is why the company has several initiatives to create a supportive and enriching work environment

Jacob shares, "One of the unique things about DPR is that we have an entire part of the organization focused on taking care of people. And within the last five years, we added another layer to that and have dedicated resources that are taking care of craft."

According to him, DPR is committed to helping craft workers develop professionally and personally, offering support beyond the jobsite.

Some of the firm's initiatives include:

  • English and Spanish translations to ensure teams can communicate well 
  • Improved benefits, including paid time off, which isn't typical for most craft workers
  • Union training 

Plus, DPR invests in digital literacy so all team members can engage with technology.

"We're training folks on digital literacy. It's saying, 'Okay, let's not only give people iPads. Let's make sure they can log into them and use their email.'"

"Those simple yet significant barriers to entry keep people out of a connected construction platform," Jacob remarks. 

“You need those barriers of entry to be resolved before you can even have the conversation about true digital literacy and application in the field.”

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 ways to bridge the labor gap in construction, be sure to catch the full episode. 

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.