New technologies and elements of automation are changing the way work is done and with it the skills workers need to perform their roles and bring projects to completion. These changes are happening at an accelerating pace.
In June, UpSkill Houston released a report that details the disruption that greater automation and increased requirements for digital skills is causing regional workers, specifically those in occupations that require more education and skills development than gained through high school but less education than a bachelor’s degree (“middle-skill” occupations).
Data in the report show that more than 50 percent of “middle-skill” occupations in the Houston region will face above average risk for disruption through either displacement or task restructuring. Certain occupations within construction likely face increased use of technology which will change how work is done. The report outlines ways in which employers can help employees remain agile and adaptable to changes in the industry and in the workplace.
The adoption of new technologies does not necessarily mean that workers will be displaced by machines or computerized systems. In many cases, workers will need to work with or alongside new technologies, like cloud-based collaboration tools, remote control systems for heavy machinery and mobile data collection or communication devices (among others mentioned throughout this issue) – and develop the skills to do so. Workers will need to learn how to use these applications and devices and understand how to read, analyze and interpret their outputs. As the pace of technological integration increases and the half-life of skills shortens, employees will need to adapt and develop new capabilities with more and more frequency and urgency. Employers can help workers meet these new demands by championing and supporting efforts to build and improve their digital skills.
The adoption of automation technologies could be more disruptive to an employee’s daily work or responsibilities. For example, prefabrication would allow a growing share of construction work to be performed under controlled conditions, like in a factory-like setting. In cases where an employee’s tasks could be automated, it might make sense for that employee to take on a different role or occupation that calls for adjacent experience, education or skills.
Employers and industry leaders can take steps now to aid these transitions for the future benefit of their workers and their operations. Employers can identify and explore skills and competencies employees need to be successful in various occupations within an industry or across industry lines and begin to map these adjacencies and progressions. Ultimately, employers could then plot how an individual could move or progress from one occupation to another based on the skills, experience or education they have or could obtain or strengthen. For example, an individual hired as a helper in a construction craft could become a craft professional, journeyman or first-line supervisor through long-term on-the-job training, apprenticeships or by gaining additional skills in areas such as project management, costing or computer-aided design (CAD).
Employers could further help their workers and their businesses mitigate the risks of disruption by encouraging and enabling employees to upskill, enhance and diversify their skills so they can play multiple roles rather than be limited to ones that historically have been specialized.
According to a survey from Working Nation, 63 percent of American workers believe technology is quickly changing the way work is done but believe they don’t have the skills to keep up. What’s more – and concerning for our future workforce – two out of three respondents said they have never been offered skills training by their employers. UpSkill Houston continues to convene employers along with education and community leaders to drive and orchestrate collective action that support individuals who need reskilling and upskilling in order to participate in our evolving – and increasingly digital – regional economy.