Editorial: New tech, new blood

Green tech and automation keys to attracting next generation
Andrew Snook
May 28, 2018
By
May 28, 2018 - During my time as a member of the trade press I’ve heard several OEMs across various sectors jokingly use the expression, “It’s not easy being green,” when describing adapting to North America’s ever-changing emission requirement targets. Whenever they use this expression I can’t help but picture the late Jim Henson’s favourite frog, Kermit, singing in a swamp or in the back of Muppet Theatre (I guess this just shows my age – not that I mind, the Muppets will always be awesome).
My choice of television shows aside, the expression is certainly accurate. The types of changes that OEMs are forced to make to meet constantly moving emission targets in Canada and the U.S. are difficult, and pricy, to say the least. From meeting Tier 4 Final and Tier 5 emissions regulations for combustion engines, to all-electric solutions, OEMs are constantly evolving their technologies, and that’s a good thing. Not just for the environment, but for the industry’s reputation as well.

Let’s face it, the construction sector as a whole – roadbuilding and aggregates producers included – has a serious image problem. The industry is viewed as bad for the environment and slow to adapting to new technologies; and this will not make recruiting the next generation an easy feat.

In Canada and the U.S. we have some very serious labour shortfalls in our future. Companies in both sectors are already finding it difficult to attract new blood to their operations. From skilled machine operators to maintenance staff, engineers, project managers and site foreman, the industry is currently bleeding decades of knowledge due to the retirement of older staff with very few younger people stepping up to take their places. This is a complex problem, but one that can be addressed through the adaption of greener technologies and practices and increased automation.

Millennials and their younger counterparts care a lot about the environment, and the social and environmental practices of the companies they work for – more than the generations before them. By committing to cleaner technologies and practices, the construction sector – with the help of a few well-placed marketing programs and social media campaigns – will be able to share their greener practices with younger generations as a way to attract people to the sector (yes, some companies are already doing this).

The automation of some heavy equipment will also be a key to attracting younger talent to the industry. Let’s face it, the number of young people interested in getting into heavy equipment and getting their hands dirty is on the decline. By offering younger generations a chance to earn a living operating equipment in an air-conditioned office instead of a pit or quarry will be extremely appealing to some, especially the keen gamers that make up a significant percentage of our future generations. But it’s not just younger people that will be attracted to the automation of equipment. Some of the veteran heavy equipment operators – particularly those that have felt the wear and tear of years of operating equipment in harsher environments – might appreciate the opportunity to work in a more comfortable environment that leaves their bodies feeling a little less beaten up at the end of the day. And who is better suited to train the next generation on the principles of operating heavy equipment while sharing their years of real-world experience operating from the ground floor?

This industry’s future will definitely be filled with greener and more automated technologies, and this might be the key to finding the answer to the industry’s hiring woes.

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