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Much of the current conversation about the future of work in the United States revolves around fears of technology making workers obsolete. But, the discussion can’t only be about how automation will change the nature of work or how machines will replace human workers.

For some time now, the construction profession has been in decline and skilled workers have left the industry during economic downturns. But new research about skills and jobs in 2030 shows the future of work is brighter than conventional wisdom suggests. Of today’s workforce, only one in five workers is in occupations that will shrink. This figure is much lower than other predictions claiming 40 percent to 60 percent of workers are in declining job fields. The reality is that many jobs recognized today will still be in demand by 2030 and beyond.

Researchers from Pearson, Oxford Martin School and Nesta embarked on the most comprehensive research project on this topic to date, called The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030, to better predict how major societal and economic trends—and the interactions between them—will affect the future of work.

While it's true that automation and other factors have already altered construction jobs and will continue to change the industry, new research predicts an increase in the demand for some construction workers by 2030. In fact, 65 percent of workers in the construction sector are likely to see job demand increase once factors like urbanization, ageing and globalization are considered fully.

The research found that construction and building trades supervisors and skilled metal, electrical and electronic trade supervisors are likely to decrease in demand by more than 30 percent. However, engineers, electrical trades, metal machining, and welding and construction operatives show increased demand.

Perhaps the most important conclusion of the report is that the construction jobs of today may require different skills for success tomorrow. The report has important implications for skills training and education in the industry. To have the right skills for future construction jobs, this research recommends focusing education and training on non-automatable skills, such as customer and personal service, fluency of ideas, sales and marketing.

Given the current national shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry, this study, and other research, should prompt an important conversation within the construction industry among employees about how to equip current and future construction workers with the skills they need.

Notably, the future will rely on lifelong learning. Construction industry employers should consider including upskilling and reskilling opportunities for their employees. Online courses can help workers develop sale skills, learn a new language or become adept at operating the construction equipment of the future. It is up to educators and employers to offer these opportunities to America’s workers.

The future of work in the construction sector will not be human versus machine, but rather human and machine. How people balance those non-automatable skills with technology productivity will chart the course of the workforce.


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