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Is the Line Between Blue-collar and White-collar Work Blurring in Construction?

Worker Illustration White or Blue Collar

Technology has taken the construction industry by storm, and it’s changing the way work gets done on the jobsite. Construction technologies improve efficiency and collaboration, reduce costs, and increase quality and safety. They help construction firms tackle the challenges imposed by rising materials costs, tight project schedules and the growing labor shortage. 

But to use technology effectively, construction professionals have had to expand their skill sets with what have typically been thought of as “white-collar” skills. In addition to being skilled in a trade and trained to operate a wide array of light and heavy equipment, construction workers must now be adept at using mobile technologies, complex software platforms, and high-tech devices such as drones and wearables. As a result, on today’s high-tech jobsite, the line between blue- and white-collar work is blurring.

Blue-Collar and White-Collar

The concept of the “white-collar worker” dates back to the early 20th century. Unlike the blue-collar crowd, white-collar workers didn’t do physical labor or “get their hands dirty.” Instead, they worked in office settings behind a desk — think bankers and accountants. They were treated as “non-production” overhead and therefore had better job security. More often than not, they were paid a salary, as opposed to an hourly wage, and obtaining a white-collar job usually required a more formal education.

White-collar work now spans a variety of industries, not the least of which is high-tech. And construction has always been considered a blue-collar industry.

But today’s construction projects require much more than physical labor. The average jobsite professional uses a mobile device to access cloud-based building information modeling (BIM) and project management software and communicate in real time with workers and other team members. He keeps stakeholders up to date on job progress and tracks deliveries using his connected device. He may capture data in the field and transfer it back to project management software in real time, or snap and upload photos to share with stakeholders. Back at his desk, he views dashboards and reports on his laptop, as software has replaced manual data entry and spreadsheets. 

But that’s not the half of it. Here are some surprising stats from JBKnowledge’s 2018 ConTech Report that point to the extent to which technology has become commonplace on the jobsite:

  • 93% of contractors use smartphones on the jobsite and 65% use tablets 
  • 57% of general contractor respondents use drones on the job sites
  • 4% of construction companies have R&D departments for new technology
  • 11% of general contractors are using wearable technology, such as headsets or biometric wristbands

To keep pace with this new high-tech environment, today’s construction workers must become adept — and comfortable — with using technology every day, on top of the work they were originally trained to do. This requirement could complicate things for construction firm owners, who must pay a premium for skilled labor, and could incur additional costs to train those workers to use new technologies. 

Although younger workers just entering construction have grown up with tech and are eager and ready to learn new technologies available on the jobsite, workers who’ve been in the industry for a longer period of time tend to be resistant. Training can help. Developing a more tech-savvy workforce and offering training to uplevel workers’ skill sets can help with employee retention and serve as an effective recruiting tool to attract the next generation of college graduates into blue-collar jobs. 

Attracting Tech-savvy Millennials and Gen-Zers

According to the National Association of Home Builders, only 3% of adults age 18-25 who knew their career aspirations said they’d chose construction, and among the undecided, 63% said they’d never consider working in construction. These stats could point to a failure of construction recruiters to educate high school students on the opportunities in construction. Many may not even be aware of the extent to which these technologies are being used on the jobsite. 

Companies who invest in providing technical training may be better poised to attract younger workers who are looking for ways to learn exciting new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. For example, Procore is working with ACE Mentor Program of America to introduce high school students to a new game called Brick by Brick, in an effort to pique interest in construction. Brick by Brick combines toy building material, the Procore construction management software and fundamentals of construction management. Procore is also using the game to onboard employees.

The Rise of the ‘No-Collar’ Worker

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report takes the conversation about blue and white collar work a step further, suggesting that success in the digital age will require businesses to embrace a “no-collar” workforce characterized by a collaboration between humans and machines. Automation, the report suggests, will force firms to redesign jobs and re-imagine how work gets done — assigning some roles to humans, some to machines, and some to a team of humans and machines. Advanced manufacturing will usher in the use of robots — which must be programmed and operated by humans who have institutional knowledge. 

Eventually, the report suggests, the line between blue and white collar work will disappear, making way for a collaborative hybrid workforce.

TrueLook construction cameras fit into this new working environment perfectly, offering construction firms flexible, scalable ways to collect, analyze and report on jobsite data by capturing high-quality photos and videos on the jobsite. TrueLook supports mobile capabilities and integrates with popular project management software such as Procore, Autodesk BIM and PlanGrid. To learn more or see a demo, visit https://www.truelook.com/construction-camera-demos/.