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Industrial organizations, particularly in the construction and engineering disciplines, have historically been slow to adopt technology. The consequences of this have been noticeable. McKinsey’s Reinventing Construction report explains construction is considered the biggest industry in the world, representing 13 percent of the global GDP. Yet it’s only seen a 1 percent increase in productivity growth in the last two decades. This costs the global economy $1.3 trillion annually.

While many industries have been streamlined and improved by technological revolution, the construction space is characterized as more of an evolutionary industry where change typically happens gradually over time. The COVID crisis, however, has forced many construction and engineering companies to dramatically increase technology adoption and think innovatively about how their work is done. As Joe Bousquin, of Construction Dive, explains:

“Many companies have been forced by the pandemic to leverage virtual conferencing tools; remote health, safety, and site monitoring technologies; and cloud-based project management platforms.”

To shift through a technological revolution, companies need to do more than manage the gaps of remote work. They need to build innovation into their leadership—and that starts with hiring the right leaders in IT, digital innovation and information security to guide them. 

Before we dive into hiring, let’s look at the importance of tech in these industries and just how much there is to gain by innovating. 

Importance of Tech in Construction and Engineering

In addition to productivity, one of the greatest benefits of innovation in these lagging industries is risk management and risk aversion. A recent Dodge Data and Analytics report found that nearly all contractors surveyed would like to digitally collect and analyze data on risk and safety, but more than one third don’t currently do so. One reason for this is that only 19 percent of contractors actually have a budget available for data analytics. 

Communication is another area that stands to benefit in a technological revolution. As Clearpath Solutions explains, “Cloud computing has a strong appeal in the construction industry, with many benefits due to the constant change of workers and setup of new job site locations. Often, construction workers require access to company data to provide timely decision-making and reporting ability while working in the field.”

Labor shortages can also be addressed with the use of technology and digital solutions in construction and engineering. Tools like drones, robots, and autonomous heavy equipment can all be used to support on-site staff and finish projects with fewer people involved, suggests ConstructionConnect. What’s more, integrating more tech can improve training, recruitment, and turnover.

The question is: how do you implement the tech needed to reap these benefits? It starts with a goals-based technology vision, which 90 percent of the top 20 percent of the most innovative construction firms have developed, according to the Global Construction Survey of 2019. On the other hand, just 24 percent of the companies that fall into the lowest 20 percent for innovation have a technology vision.

Construction and engineering companies need experienced technology leaders to cast that vision, whether they come from within the industry or not. 

Different Roles to Consider

When looking to hire someone to jump-start innovation in your organization, it’s important to consider what your company needs, and which person can best fill that gap. As such, there are a few key roles to consider. 

  • Chief Security Officer (CSO): Oversees the building and management of secure infrastructure, needed to manage the private company and customer data in our newly remote, and continually evolving digital world. 
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO): Oversees the business and development end of technology implementation and management. 
  • Construction Technologist (CT): Oversees various aspects of tech implementation and management, specializing in tech implementation in the construction industry. 
  • Chief Digital & Innovation Officer (CDIO): Oversees the digital innovation and transformation of the company’s products and services and the adoption of digital technologies across the business.

How to Get Started with Outside Hiring

While hiring from outside the industry is traditionally avoided in engineering and construction, it’s quickly becoming non-negotiable with few innovation experts currently working in these industries. Not only is an outside hire likely the only option for many firms right now, but this type of hire brings a fresh, outside perspective that this lagging industry needs. 

“The technology enhancements and capabilities that can exist or can help in the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) industries should not be limited to individuals that know that market and know that industry; the reality is digitalization,” says Bernard Layton, Comhar Partners Co-Founder and Managing Director. 

Layton continues, “Data, security, and digitalization of work processes and communications are all common needs that exist well beyond the EPC industries. As a result, a highly qualified professional that understands how to roll up their sleeves and solve technology issues, with only the purpose of enhancing the business and business processes, is all that should be evaluated in looking at bringing in a CIO, CISO, VPs of IT, and even Directors of IT.”

Tips for Hiring Outside of Your Industry

Hiring outside your industry can be challenging. Use these tips to find the best person for your firm’s technology needs. 

  • Focus on functional expertise. Identify the critical skills your technology and innovation strategy will require and recruit for those skills without regard to the industry where they are applied.
  • Prioritize change management experience. Company-wide adoption of new technology is the critical final step of a successful project and new technology leaders must be experts in adoption and change management to ensure the success of any innovation strategy. 
  • Consider your technology roadmap. It’s critical to understand where you are as a company on your technology and innovation journey so you can ensure the new hire has experience working through comparable journeys in their prior jobs.
  • Embrace change, Technological revolution requires leaders to dismiss the notion of “that’s not how we’ve always done it,” and embrace fresh, new ideas. Apply this mindset to the hiring process for functional expertise, especially.

Hiring for Innovation in Construction and Engineering

It’s no longer a question of whether the construction and engineering industries should evolve—it is now simply a question of who will adapt and succeed and who will fall behind and lose momentum among competitors in the process? Integrating innovation and technology into construction and engineering is no longer optional, and hiring outside of the industry may be your company’s best answer to quickly moving ahead in this new technological revolution. 

Scott Clark, Managing Director at Comhar Partners’ Atlanta office, has over 20 years of experience in executive search and talent acquisition leadership. Scott leads Comhar Partners’ Industrial Practice. Over his career, Scott has successfully executed or managed a group executing over 500 executive searches in numerous industries including Infrastructure, Engineering, Construction, Industrial Goods & Services, and Natural Resources & Alternative Energy.