Associate Prof. Gautam Pant discusses how the construction industry and employees can prepare for a changing future.

01 October 2016

Expert Talk

“Government backed initiatives like Smart cities, ‘Housing for All’ and announcement of infusion of cash to the tune of Rs. 25 trillion in the infrastructure domain, would be strong contributors to growth. Currently the construction sector employs about 33 million people, being the second largest employer.”

Times have really changed! Although, grand festivals of India like Diwali still witness a beeline of professionals heading towards their hometown, there are advertisements which showcase rise of a generation which connects to their loved ones through Skype. This is the today’s youth, generation Z or millennials which would form 64% of the workforce by 2021. Imagine the reaction of this workforce, which is hooked on to the internet 24X7, when it is either denied this facility or is not being provided with the same quality of services of which they are used to. Couple of years back, people would not have imagined provision of free Wifi being an election issue. Choice of jobs which guarantee such perks, which also include managerial cadre roles, therefore emerge as natural choices for the emerging workforce. While sectors like IT have created a cushy workplace environment with options for work life balance, the nature of jobs in the construction sector might not guarantee a similar experience. India’s Built Environment is poised for growth. Government backed initiatives like smart cities, housing for all by 2022 and announcement of infusion of cash to the tune of Rs. 25 Trillion in the infrastructure domain, would be strong contributors to this growth.

Currently the construction sector employs about 33 million people (Ibid), being the second largest employer. With the advent of this growth and the fact that the growth in the construction sector would be associated with the growth in the associated industries, demand for the skilled manpower will grow. The sector is already reeling under the shortage in the skilled manpower, although the gap is largest at the lower level, the demand at the managerial level is also substantial. Management related jobs find their place among one of the most coveted ones, however the nature of such jobs in the construction industry is typical. Construction industry is characterized by a hierarchical set up, which suited the nature of work as it required a chain of command to be followed.
This is also because expertise about the job was residing at the top. The experienced foremen although knew a lot about the operational aspects of the job, they lacked the expertise about project management and design technology. The direction thus flowed from the top and years of experience were valued.

Currently creation and fitment of the managerial cadre which envisages employment of millennials in companies is not a universal reality. Even if the cadre is created, the span of control is very limited. Inclusive and creative work culture, accommodative work environment, autonomy in terms of work-life balance and flexible working and personalized appreciation are some of the major themes characterizing the millennials. The current culture of the construction industry might thus not provide any workplace in which people aspire to work for. The new workforce is better equipped with the knowledge of latest technology in the field, which would disturb the equation of a top-down direction.

The generation today comes from a nuclear family. With increase in the number of the technical institutes, the requisite technical education is available closer home, with the result that the millennials have stayed with their parents in an protective and caring atmosphere till the time they completed their graduation. Having just one or two kids, even the parents want them to be closer to them.

Workplaces closer homes would thus be preferred. This mind-set would affect choices of vocation, specifically the choice of place of posting of the current and future workforce. Further, being a single child, the current and future workforce would like to be posted at a place where either they could reach their parents in their time of need or they can keep their parents with them, so that they could provide them quality health services. Cynics might argue about depletion of family values, however my personal experience with trainees in my previous organisation and the students currently, leads me to believe otherwise.

Further, working spouses are no longer exceptions. The couples therefore prefer either working in the same company or in the same city or would like to be placed in places which are close by. Facilities such as internet, sound infrastructure, good connectivity with other cities, good education and health facilities are now considered as hygiene factors. 

The fact that only the construction activities which are clustered in and around the B or A class cities which have been chosen to be the smart cities of future would guarantee the kind of living environment the current and future millennial workforce aspires for. Typically the infrastructure projects or those construction sites which are located in remote locations would pose a severe challenge in attracting and engaging the millennial workforce. The problem is further compounded because of the efforts required to change the current culture to cater to the aspirations of the millennials while catering to the engagement of the existing workforce which would like to maintain the status quo. However, enlisting support of the existing workforce would be crucial to effectively groom the new people and for growth of business. Any new interventions should thus be carefully planned.

Improvement of facilities at remote sites should therefore be taken up as a priority by various construction companies, while the government should support such efforts with the creation of better connecting infrastructure. Mentoring could be used as an effective tool for grooming the younger ones. This would help in creating relationship which would give autonomy, yet maintain value of experience and seniority. Knowledge management could be used as an effective tool for capturing and disseminating the tacit knowledge and rapid upskilling. The solutions to this challenge however require a more detailed and deliberate response, which can’t be summed up in a single article. However engaging the future builders is surely an issue to be kept in focus for the effective growth of the construction sector.