Before Retirement: Life in the Construction Industry

I am looking forward to retirement. I am ready to have time for me. I am ready to be free of the 8 to 4:30, Monday through Friday workweek. I will not miss driving to work in the pitch dark on icy streets. I will not miss the lunchbag sandwiches, salads and soups. I will not miss being tied to a desk for eight hours a day, seeing the sunshine on the other side of the street. There are a number of things I will not miss, and there are many things that I will.

For the past twenty-five years, I have worked in the Saskatchewan construction industry. I worked at a millwork company that made amazing custom cabinets, a metal company that did phenomenal work in stainless steel, brass, aluminum, and steel, and for the past fifteen years I have worked for a company that sells and installs high end residential and commercial construction specialty products. It has been fun, interesting and gratifying.

The best part of the construction industry is the people. For the most part, I have loved working with the clients, consultants, contractors, suppliers, my bosses and co-workers. We are all a part of an industry, and the heart and soul of our industry are the tradespeople. They work through the blazing heat of summer and the frigid cold of winter. They work the hours it takes, and do what they have to do, to get the job done. At the end of the day, they are proud of what they have done. It is not just about a paycheque or personal accolades. It is a house or a hospital or a school that they helped to build, as part of a team of dedicated professionals.

The construction industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past twenty-five years. Some changes have been good, like improvements in products, design and equipment. Some changes have not been as good, in my mind. There have been a lot of new or revised programs that have added a lot of administration but little value to the industry.

Today I attended a meeting focused on digital transformation in the construction industry. It was primarily a presentation of a program designed to manage the administration and documentation of major projects. From what I could tell this particular program seemed credible.

My issue with this meeting was the pre-presentation warm up. The speaker noted that the construction industry is far behind other industries, such as manufacturing, in developing and implementing the technology required to ‘progress’ . He showed a number of small clips, most of which I had no real issue with. He had one on BIM software, one on Robotics, one on drones, one on virtual reality – all of which could be legitimately used as tools to enhance construction projects and deal with issues before they become real life brick and mortar issues.

Than he showed a clip on AI – artificial intelligence. This clip explained how technology could be implemented to constantly scan a worksite, count and record the vehicles entering and leaving the site and scan the workers from the time they step on to the site to the time they leave. It would scan where they went, what they did, record any safety infractions, check their ppe (personal protective equipment), etc. I voiced my objection to technology being used in this manner.

One of the other attendees noted that it is frustrating to constantly be monitoring workers for proper use of their ppe and that this could be a safety management tool, which the presenter quickly agreed with. Except, it would not really help to improve safety on a site. If someone was monitoring this scanner every moment, and if they saw a safety alert pop up, they would have to contact someone on the site to go address the situation. This would still be an ongoing issue for foremen and supervisors to deal with. What this technology would do, would be to provide a record so that if there was an incident, the contractor could go to court, backed with video proof of what part a worker had played in the incident and use it to mitigate any legal responsibility the company would have.

We all want everyone to go home safe at the end of the day. Workers do not want to be injured on the job or anywhere else. For the most part they are conscientious about safety – theirs and the people they work with. However, workers are human. They are working in situations that are not ideal and under conditions that are problematic. They are working with dangerous tools and with product that has the potential to turn lethal in a gust of wind or a slight miss-step. Accidents do and will continue to happen. When they do, injured workers and their families should be taken care of. That is what worker’s compensation and disabilty insurance is for.

Artificial intelligence that is implemented to dehumanize our workforce is not progress. Technology used in this manner is an appalling insult to the front line workers in our industry. Next summer, this will no longer be ‘my industry’ but I hope that those who remain will ensure that it remains an industry where workers are treated with respect and appreciation.

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