Construction computing: why builders need digital skills home worker on tablet with coffee

Construction computing: Why builders need digital skills

Thinking of a career as a builder? If you thought it was all about bricks and mortar, think again. Learn how digital tech is crucial in construction.

Do an online image search for ‘builder’ and you’ll see rows and rows of smiling tradesmen clutching drills, saws and hammers. But where are all the PCs, tablets and smart phones?

Computing is becoming an important part of the construction industry. So why not look into how technology can benefit your career now and in the future.

IT in the construction industry

For many years, companies working on large-scale projects have been making use of construction computing technology. One of the most common examples is project management software. This helps firms keep track of costs, supplies, work rotas and general progress.

These apps can be installed on portable devices like tablets and smartphones so managers can take the software with them. This is known as construction field computing, and it has big advantages:

  • Progress can be recorded and stored easily
  • Contractors’ work can be monitored and recorded using a smartphone camera and database system
  • A single schedule – which everyone can see – can be instantly updated by one person, no matter where he or she is at the time

Updating vital project information instantly should avoid people working to clashing schedules, differing deadlines and so on. That’s as long as everyone knows how to use it of course!

You can’t ignore IT skills if you’d like to work for a bigger company and even move into management one day. If you’re offered the chance to get some IT training during your course or apprenticeship, grab it with both hands.

And even if your goal is to stick to smaller projects, perhaps setting up as a self-employed tradesman in the future, it’s still difficult to predict where technology will take us. Better to ensure the future of your career than get left behind later on.

Given how quickly technology changes, it is difficult to say how the industry will have changed in 10 years’ time? How about in 40-50 years, which is how long your working life will probably last?

Let’s consider a few examples. Building information modelling is what enables architects, engineers and construction managers to create and explore building designs in 3D. So far, it’s been reserved mainly for larger-scale projects.

But think about the way augmented reality (AI) has become so widespread recently. A great example is the game ‘Pokemon Go’, which projects moving pictures onto the real world via our smartphones. How long before your customers will expect to see how their new extension will look in the virtual world, before letting you start building?

Then there’s the trend for smart home devices, household appliances that can be controlled by an app or via the cloud, which are getting popular. At the moment, most of these devices are free-standing and fairly simple to install, like smart smoke alarms, kettles and light switches. But will this remain the case as the technology gets better?

Using and having an interest in technology will help you see what’s coming, identify any potential business opportunities and prepare for them.

Tech-savvy marketing for construction companies

Let’s say, after reading all the above, you still want to take a totally old-school approach to your work. But if you decide to become a self-employed tradesman or small business owner, you’ll still have one issue to deal with.

That is, how are people going to hear about you?

Gone are the days when everyone knew all the other residents on their street. So these days, simply doing a good job isn’t likely to be enough to get your name out there.

In today’s world, the first thing millions of us do before parting with our money is search online. When they do, you need to make sure people can find you.

Websites for tradesmen

The best websites for tradesmen are no longer just online business cards. They contain:

  • useful information like tips and advice
  • examples of work you’ve done
  • customer testimonials
  • up-to-date information about prices
  • reliable ways to get in touch.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a computer programmer to create and keep up to date a website. In fact, if you use a website builder service, adding content to your pages will be similar to updating a Facebook page.

You also need to make sure that when a customer Googles words that are a business opportunity for you that you’re near the top of the results page. There are a few ways to help you achieve this:

  • Use words that describe what you do and the places you’re willing to work. (For example, you’ll struggle to get your site to rank highly on “Building maintenance” but you might do well on “Building maintenance in Swaffham”)
  • Add your site to local business directories (as long as they’re good quality)
  • Create interesting content like a photo gallery. If other websites link to your site, you could move up in the results pages as a result

Social media marketing

Even if you’re not interested in Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and suchlike, you could still find them useful for your construction business.

Get in the habit of taking photos of your work (getting permission from your customers of course). You can then share these on social media, which will help give people ideas for their own property projects. You might even get a few phone calls as a result.

The tricky side of social media is how to deal with disputes should they arise. Particularly since any arguments on social media are by nature quite public, it’s never a good idea to lose your temper. It’s best to remain calm and polite no matter how angry you might feel about an unfair complaint.

The more approachable you seem online, the more likely it is that you’ll be approached by potential customers.

Online advertising

Online advertising is quite a complex area, and it changes very quickly as new tools come onto the market. Here are some of the ways you could make use of online advertising in today’s world:

  • Much like advertising in the newspaper, you may be able to find local or regional websites willing to host your ads for a fee
  • Pay to advertise on Facebook or other social platforms, reaching people who have an interest in the work you do
  • Search engines like Google and Bing accept paid advertising, where you pay a certain amount every time someone clicks on your ad. This can become expensive, but on the other hand you won’t be paying for ads that didn’t bring you any visits
  • It can be worth registering on online recommendation services. You may have to pay for each lead you get, but you can also build an online profile of customers’ glowing reviews of your work

How to develop your digital skills

Over your long career, from starting out as an apprentice to retiring, you’re going to need to understand technology as it evolves over the decades. What might initially take time to learn could save you both time and money in the long-run.

Look out for training courses and online resources that will help you develop the skills you need. It helps to think of learning as a lifelong process – as the technology changes, we all have to change too.

Once your building firm is ready to launch, whether you’re setting up as a sole trader or starting a sizeable company, you’ll need to get insured. Public liability insurance can cover you against claims made from a third party who has been injured or had their property damaged as a result of your work. So make sure you're covered.

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Last Updated: 05 Aug 2016