AI and Construction: The opportunities and challenges for AI in the domestic trades industry
It is not an exaggeration to assume that each of us has encountered Artificial Intelligence (AI) in our work at a certain point in the last year. Goldman Sachs predicted that up to 300 million jobs could be lost to AI in the coming years. The domestic trades and construction industries are certainly no strangers to it either. But are these industries and jobs safe from AI?
McKinsey & Company defines AI as “a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we associate with human minds, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning…” The sector is experiencing a transformative journey no doubt. But it’s worth exploring if moving away from human touch is viable for the trades and construction industry.
Generative AI in the Construction Industry
How can Generative AI be used in the skilled trades and construction workforce?
Generative AI’s strength lies in being able to analyse a large amount of data, identify patterns, and make inferences, according to a report by McKinsey & Company. There is no doubt that AI’s possibilities can propel the trades and construction industries forward. Its ability to compute large amounts of information and data revolutionises problem solving. AI use in the industry can be instrumental in providing more cost-effective solutions and minimising the use of resources, while also alerting safety and compliance issues.
But at the same time, how likely is it for construction and trade jobs to be taken over by AI completely?
Limitations of AI in the construction and skilled trades industries
Skilled labour in the trades and construction industry has a unique set of specialisations and skill-specific expertise that is difficult, if not impossible for AI to replicate.
A recent BBC Worklife article devised three ‘safe zones’ – jobs under these zones were said to be relatively safe from AI. Of these, work that revolves around mobility, dexterity, and extensive problem-solving within unpredictable situations, is much harder for machines and AI to do better than humans. Jobs in the trades and construction industry fall in this category. Individuals like welders, plumbers, masons, and electricians are specialists in their field and exercise not only their craft but also their people skills while on the job.
Apart from requiring practical skill and know-how, these jobs also require out of box thinking, and creative solutions to problems. What’s more, a lot of the work in these sectors takes place within people’s homes and it is often only human beings we trust with one of our most precious possessions.
Where does the construction industry go from here?
In our fascination with AI, we must not forget the valuable human resources that already exist. According to UK Labour Market Statistics, unemployment levels rose in the last quarter of 2022, with 8.69 million people between 16-65 without work. As economic growth slows and fears of recession loom, these numbers are likely to get higher.
While AI might be able to reduce costs and improve efficiency across areas such as project planning, risk mitigation and design, the sector still needs real human beings on a large scale.
With the right training and opportunities, there are currently thousands of individuals who could enter the workforce and help build a secure future for themselves. The trades and construction industry offers a fulfilling career for those who seek a different challenge away from 9-5 desk-based roles. It offers opportunities for entrepreneurship, more flexibility, and freedom in an industry that is constantly innovating and evolving to adapt to a changing world.