Writer: Joey Garrand
2 min read April 2022 — While the construction industry has been viewed historically as slow to evolve, local Philadelphia companies in the sector are innovating and there is a great deal of technological potential yet to be tapped. However, innovation for general contractors differs from that for architects as well as the long-term implications of an increasingly virtual world.
To better understand the developments that are taking place and the varied approaches to the latest trends permeating the industry, Invest: spoke with two regional leaders, Benjamin Connors and Christopher Kenney, to glean their insights.
What are some exciting innovations in your industry today and on the horizon?
Benjamin Connors, President, General Building Contractors Association
In this market, there has been broad adoption of new construction management software, drone utilization and laser scanning. Those technologies are now commonplace in this market. We’re now seeing an increasing push toward modularization, embracing manufacturing philosophies to increase time and cost efficiencies.
We haven’t seen 3D printing to the degree seen in China or other places but that’s something to watch. A few years ago, I would have said exoskeletons are a far-out idea but there are contractors considering using them in the near future in this market. With some investment, the longevity of workers can be extended by preventing injuries. If you work your whole career in the construction industry, you’re going to retire physically spent to a degree that most of us aren’t. Something like an exoskeleton may allow individuals to work more efficiently and safely, allowing for a higher quality of life.
Christopher Kenney, Principal, Strada
When the pandemic hit we were ready for the ensuing digital transition because of the way we run our business and the way we function across multiple locations. Remote work presents an extraordinary opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. As much as we struggle with negative social impacts, there will be positive environmental benefits coming from remote work.
The level of our ability to communicate projects in three dimensions is increasing by an order of magnitude every year. Now, we’re working with VR headsets and giving them to clients, allowing them to “stand” in a room and “look” around their projects. We’ve moved to a place where we are digitally mapping existing buildings and creating sophisticated models. The level of comfort and ability to move around in the digital world increases every year. The digital environment is allowing us to elevate our communication. That’s the silver lining from the pandemic.
How is remote work affecting your industry?
Moving forward, the lack of remote work will be a barrier. When you have a big segment of the workforce working in-person, on the job site every day, it is difficult culturally to then have another segment of the workforce that is working remotely and not in the trenches to the same degree. Individuals joining the workforce are putting remote work at a premium and this will affect decision-making for those exploring career paths.
The ability and fluidity to work remotely has been a tangible benefit. In fact, we have increased our staff count by more than 20% over the past two years. Also, we have people leaving the States to live overseas and they are able to continue working with us. I’ve seen an increased number of resumes from other countries. Before the pandemic and the advent of remote work, those resumes would not elicit a response. We do require the office to be in-person three days per week and as needed with clients but the hybrid model is huge for us. We need to be able to establish what works for everyone. Like a lot of companies, we’re trying to strike a balance for our workers in this hybrid environment. It’s not perfect but we’re getting there.