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  • Glenn Cottrell

Death of the Craftsman?

7 years ago, the McKinsey Global Institute published “Reinventing construction through a productivity revolution.” In it, they famously reported that labor productivity in the U.S. construction industry has declined since 1968... in stark contrast to rising productivity in all other industry sectors studied. Seemingly, this statement was quoted at every industry event I attended following that publication. Heck, I even included it in a few of my presentations. It’s compelling. 

It's also the reason that there is so much time, money and effort being poured into robotics, 3D printing, and now adaptive AI for construction.  Throughput in manufacturing - the number of quality units produced over a given period of production time - is one of the most important measures of success. Automation, in principle, should increase throughput. 


I recently toured a factory that fabricated residential wall panels. The levels of automation, precision, safety and quality control were all impressive.  What was also impressive was the workforce onsite – like a well-choreographed dance team performing in sync. You can be sure that plant management was measuring throughput. 

You can also be sure that those quality panels were loaded on to the bed of truck, driven to a nearby jobsite and assembled by a crew that is skilled at not only erecting panels to be plumb and square; but also adjusting for any onsite for inaccuracies they may encounter.  

You see, despite all the time, money, focus – and yes, progress – in off-site construction, our industry still requires a LOT of skilled labor to deliver 1+ million homes annually. So, while the potential of technology and automation is both exciting and worthy of pursuit, please join me and others in advocating for the promotion and professionalization of careers in the skilled trades... because as an industry, we’re nowhere without them. 


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