Robots to take over thousands of construction jobs

Nick Myall
Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

A new era of robotic construction is about to dawn as building jobs across the globe come under threat

Skyscrapers could soon be built by robots rather than by people, according to the boss of one of the UK’s biggest developers.

Alison Carnwath, chairman of Land Securities says thousands of builders may lose their jobs as 2.3m construction jobs in the UK come under threat from robots and machines.

According to the web site mishtalk, the result of using robots would be huge productivity gains as more work could be done by fewer people – but also mass layoffs as traditionally labour-intensive construction projects will require less staff.

“We’re moving into the era of the robots,” said Alison Carnwath, the chairman of Land Securities, the £8.2bn FTSE 100 construction company.

Speaking at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention in the UK, the veteran businesswoman said the pace of technological change has taken her by surprise.

“Five years ago I’d have smiled wryly if somebody had said to me that robots would be able to put up buildings in the City of London – I tell you we’re not that far off, and that has huge implications,” she said.

“Businesses are focusing on [productivity], they want to reengineer how their people can work, they recognise that technology is upon us and is going to destroy thousands of jobs,” said Ms Carnwath, who has been on Land Securities’ board since 2004 and has been chairman since 2008.

A good example of the technology being employed is the In-situ Fabricator developed by Zurich-based architects and roboticists, an autonomous robot that can lay bricks into pre-programmed structures.

Professor Jonas Buchli who oversaw the Swiss research says, “The construction site for us, as a robotics researcher, is an interesting environment because it somewhere in between the completely planned and controlled environment of a factory or a lab floor, and the completely chaotic environment of outdoors, so it’s kind of a semi-structured environment where we can test and develop the technology that is required for robots to move around and do useful things in such environments.”

Not all of the exposed construction jobs will go immediately, but any kind of repetitive task that can be easily automated will be under threat.

Robotic automation will happen far faster than people expect. Obviously this trend will also be played out at an international level. If tens of thousands of UK construction workers lose their jobs, the same percentage in the US and other western nations will do so as well.

Nick Myall

News editor

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