Human vs. Machine: Blue Collar Tech Startups Side With Humans

As automation continues to threaten jobs, can technology help human workers outperform robots?

There’s a problem with Silicon Valley.

With a culture that emphasizes disrupting entire industries through automation, tech startups often forget to consider their effect on workers. In creating 1,000 jobs in Silicon Valley, many startups might be destroying 10,000 jobs elsewhere. They increase inequality, & most worryingly, in the event that you extend the trend lines far enough, it’s a dead end. What goes on when all industries have already been "disrupted" and all jobs have already been automated away?

Every company performs economic arbitrage if they decide between purchasing a technology solution or buying their workforce. Startups can tip the total amount of that arbitrage in a single direction or the other, based on if they concentrate on improving the productivity of the technology or the labor.

Before studying construction management at Stanford, I spent summers focusing on residential construction sites. During this time period I noticed a disconnect between your challenges faced by the workers in the field and the construction technology being developed. A lot of the technology centered on helping the architect or the engineer. There is little effort to aid the craftsman on site.

Due to this fact, just how construction projects were created has truly gone through considerable innovation, as the way projects are executed hasn’t. Many tasks performed onsite by foremen and crews remain done very much the same they were completed a lot more than 30 years back: with paper, email, and calls. This consists of scheduling assignments, updating blueprints, sharing punch lists, and planning walkthroughs and inspections.

I started to wonder: Why are we automating skilled blue-collar jobs away before we’ve reached the entire potential of human capability? That’s what I had at heart when I started Fieldwire, a technology company made to empower construction laborers and craftsmen by helping them do their jobs better, instead of replace them.

Benefits of technology for blue-collar workers.

Many industries have didn’t recognize the potential of the blue-collar workforce, deciding on automated replacements. Although robots are better to train and manage, they lack the adaptability that’s critical to numerous sectors such as for example construction. Tech could be made to obviate automation by maximizing human productivity. Emerging technologies might help companies improve efficiencies, keep your charges down, and increase value.

Related: 3 EXPLANATIONS WHY You IS GOING into Project Management

Only thirty percent of a craftsman’s day is spent building, or “wrench time” as its called in the construction industry. The rest is consumed by tasks such as for example data entry, paperwork and gathering equipment, which generate little value. One study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded the construction industry wastes $15.8 billion every year because of a insufficient efficient information management systems for exchanging and accessing data. Construction teams often transition backwards and forwards between paper-based and electronic systems, resulting in redundant labor charges for companies. Due to this fact, management teams on construction sites must repeatedly verify that parties have the same information.

Image credit: Fieldwire

By developing tech that supports blue-collar workers within their daily work, we are able to reduce the have to perform tedious administrative tasks and help more projects get completed promptly and on budget.

The need for blue-collar jobs.

Historically, blue-collar workers have benefited little from innovation in the digital space. As the pc and internet have revolutionized white-collar office work, the effect on labor and craft jobs has been minimal. Actually, during the last 30 years productivity has increased in just about any industry, yet it has declined in the construction sector. According to analyze by McKinsey, productivity has nearly doubled in the manufacturing sector but has remained flat in construction.

Related: 4 Solutions to Increase Employee Productivity

Image credit: McKinsey & Company

Blue-collar jobs serve a crucial role in society. They are good paying opportunities with a minimal entry barrier and strong growth potential. These positions will be the bedrock of a wholesome middle income and balanced economy. Unfortunately, these jobs have progressively lost competitiveness which includes created an economic incentive for companies to outsource or automate them. We’ve already witnessed this in the manufacturing sector, and today construction jobs are being threatened by new technologies like assembly line-built homes and self-driving excavators.

By bringing technological leverage right to the finish user, blue-collar tech companies are proving you can improve worker productivity and preserve jobs, while also creating a far more profitable business.

The mobile revolution empowers individual workers.

Mobile tech has taken online connectivity to people around the world. It’s convenient for consumers on the run, but it’s also a revolution that benefits individuals who spend a lot of the day dealing with their hands.

The mobile revolution didn’t happen deliberately. Companies didn’t seek to equip their field workers with cell phones and tablets; it just happened naturally as mobile technology became ubiquitous. This created a platform to distribute products right to the end user instead of carrying it out through the CIO. Similar to the mobile app stores created a gigantic market by allowing developers to directly compete for consumers’ attention, they’ve also enabled the blue collar worker to choose the technology they feel may be the most ideal for their day-to-day work. Workers no more need to utilize the tech chosen by a disconnected office executive.

Related: When to Upgrade From IT Staff to CIO

Blue collar jobs tend to be considered cost centers by companies despite being most directly in charge of generating value. This perception by decision-makers, who frequently are far taken off the day to day activities of construction sites, is the reason why most companies invest conservatively in technology to boost construction labor efficiencies. With mobile products distributed through a freemium model, blue collar workers have the ability to adopt the technology without additional expense, validate the huge benefits, and communicate the worthiness with their management.

Blue-collar tech in construction.

At Fieldwire, we’ve seen firsthand how digital technology might help construction workers become more efficient. The project team in charge of the expansion of the Moscone Center, San Francisco’s largest convention complex, could coordinate over 350 workers across 60 different companies using our task management software. The $550 million project faced two significant challenges. First, the initial layout of the Moscone Center meant there have been long distances between your offices and field site. This may have resulted in lost time by workers having to travel backwards and forwards between locations to talk about information.

Second, parts of the Moscone Center were still being used as the renovations were occurring, meaning construction periods needed to be reserved around convention dates. Delays or setbacks could have impacted the dates of events that were booked years beforehand. Craig Hartman, senior partner at the architectural design firm SOM, told the SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA Business Times , “It’s almost a chess game of moving parts to keep things functioning and keep things operating well. We can not remove existing meeting space below grade until we build new space to support that.”

Teams onsite could actually communicate and share drawings, files, and tasks while employed in different areas. Most of all, they were in a position to reduce excess work and complete the next phase of the project promptly.

Related: The 5 Biggest Reasons Projects Fail

Our company isn’t the only startup centered on building technology to aid blue collar workers. It’s a competitive space, especially in the massive construction industry — which makes up about nearly ten percent of the GDP generally in most countries.

Serious Labs produces virtual reality simulation for workforce education in the industrials sector. The business aims to boost worker safety and productivity by helping companies provide hands-on training. Their VR technology helps workers gain experience and know-how to take care of job-site hazards through a combined mix of game-based learning and personal evaluation. This past year Serious Labs developed a crane simulator to permit construction crew members become certified in crane operation without tying up company equipment.

Safesite is another startup building technology to aid the blue collar workforce. The business offers a safety management platform so teams on construction sites and other risky industries can notify one another of safety hazards. With Safesite, companies can spend less on worker compensation costs. The mobile technology improves productivity by preventing workplace injuries and streamlining safety inspection compliance. Safesite has been utilized by construction companies on multi-million dollar projects including the expansion of the LA metro rail system to the LAX airport.

Tech can increase worker efficiency and preserve jobs, too.

In line with the Commercial Construction Index, 60 percent of construction contractors had trouble finding skilled workers in the 3rd quarter of 2017. With a labor shortage, employers have a motivation to find solutions with a comparatively low labor intensity, which isn’t best for blue collar workers. One-third of the contractors surveyed reported a higher concern over the expense of skilled labor, while a lot more than one-half reported moderate concern.

Image credit: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index – 2017 Q4

Image credit: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index – 2017 Q4

By improving the productivity and expanding the skillset of workers, blue collar technology startups help employers by increasing jobsite efficiency and reducing the expense of labor output. Over time, these businesses provide workers with greater job security by making automated alternatives to labor less attractive.

Related: The 5 Most Successful Work Environments (and the 5 Worst)

A report at Oxford University predicts 47 percent of jobs in developed countries will be replaced by computers or robots within the next 2 decades. This trend could have profound economic and social consequences. A wholesome economy takes a robust middle income. It is important for the prosperity of nations that technology is employed in a responsible manner that supports working class jobs. In a diversified labor market, not everyone could be a computer programmer.

Understanding construction industry workers has been a fundamental element of developing our product at Fieldwire. Our customers know best what they should be effective, and we are constantly talking to them to understand about their logistical bottlenecks. Furthermore, we’ve made a concerted effort to recruit associates with experience employed in the construction sector. Ultimately, we believe we are able to revolutionize a normal industry and take it in to the 21st century by reexamining how work is performed.

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