Labor shortages are an extremely critical topic of conversation in housing, driving leaders to rethink processes for better productivity and higher efficiency. This detailed report takes a look at the technologies that will be available in the next forty years that will be leading the change.

“Advancements in technology have already dramatically re-shaped American manufacturing and eliminated millions of blue-collar, middle-class jobs,” said study co-author and Project for Middle Class Renewal Director, Dr. Robert Bruno. “Similar changes are already underway in the construction sector, and it is vital for policymakers to begin thinking about ways to embrace progress without leaving middle-class workers behind.”

To conduct their thought experiment, MEPI and U of I researchers highlight a decades-long decline of blue-collar labor as a total share of construction costs and the growing share of capital— which includes machinery, equipment, and other technologies— to show that the industry is well positioned to move towards increased automation.

“Whether through the use of robotics, virtual reality, or other technological innovations, automation has been increasing productivity, reducing costs, and improving quality,” said study co-author Jill Manzo. “With capital growing, the industry struggling with skilled labor shortages, and our nation facing growing infrastructure needs, it is fair to conclude that the pace of automation is likely to accelerate in the decades to come.”

Utilizing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections, as well as recent McKinsey & Company estimates which identified the percentage of tasks that could potentially be automated across a broad range of occupational categories, MEPI and U of I researchers identified the potential risk of automation in ten distinct skilled trades by 2057— both nationally and in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They found that not only could 49% of skilled middle-class construction jobs ultimately be automated, but that roughly 90% of operating engineers, cement masons, and painters could be displaced.

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