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The Modern Toolbox: How to Use Technology to Survive the Worker Shortage

If you’ve been having trouble filling skilled positions, you’re not alone. In a 2017 survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America, almost 75% of businesses reported that they had been having difficulty finding enough workers. From construction to manufacturing and marine work, there just aren’t enough qualified and trained workers to fill available roles.

The bad news is we can expect this trend to continue. At least one research firm predicts that between 2017 and 2027, the U.S. will see a whopping 8.2 million labor roles go unfilled. The good news, with modern technology tools in your toolbox, you can mitigate issues created by the increasing labor shortage in your company.

Here are five technological advances that may help you survive the impending worker shortage.

Work Coordination Software

With fewer people on your teams, communication and effective scheduling are more important than ever. You can’t afford to lose time due to bottlenecked approvals, or a lack of transparency regarding which work orders take priority. Work coordination software can ease some of these problems by digitizing your processes to make your teams more efficient. With a work coordination platform, you can do things like:

  • Receive incoming work requests from customers and assign them to field staff within minutes.
  • Schedule work in advance during anticipated busy seasons.
  • Send online alerts for preventive maintenance.
  • Track time, labor hours and invoice information in one place.
  • Message field and onsite staff when work changes to avoid down time.

Work coordination software pays for itself via decreased staff overtime, reduced workflow confusion, improved communication, work status transparency, and fewer mistakes on the job. All of this serves to help you get control and get organized to complete more work on time.

Virtual Reality

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have long seemed limited to industries like video gaming; but these technologies aren’t just for fun and games. In today’s marketplace, they serve a pragmatic function.

In industries from medicine to manufacturing and even field service, AR and VR can be used to quickly and effectively train new staff on company procedures and educate veteran staff on new methods and protocols. Imagine your employees putting on a pair of VR glasses and being able to virtually test out a new piece of equipment. They can practice new techniques in an environment with no serious consequences before they return to the job site.

Using VR for training can save on time, travel costs, and the risk of on-the-job injuries. In the midst of a worker shortage, your company doesn’t have staff to spare for long periods of off-site training courses. This high-tech teaching method is likely to be worth the investment in the long run; and with its growing popularity, we may see VR become a more cost effective option down the line.

Efficient Building Materials

When it comes to field service, construction, and similar industries, the materials you use can make a big impact on your team’s ability to be efficient with fewer workers. Companies supplying the materials used in marine yards and on construction sites are beginning to leverage technology to create products that can increase task efficiency.

For instance, many siding and trim boards now arrive on construction sites in pre-primed form, saving builders hours of time. Some manufacturers are making these products with lighter materials, so they can be carried by a single worker — as opposed to heavier panels requiring several people to lift and carry them around a job site. One of the most innovative building material products of 2018 is an aerosol envelope sealing system, which ensures energy-efficient windows and doors by creating an airtight seal. The installation process for this system is designed to be quick and simple, saving valuable hours for construction teams.

When businesses take advantage of the technological advances within their industry, they can ease the workload for their limited staff. If you’ve been using the same materials for years, it’s time to explore what else is available — there may be new advancements that can give your lean teams a big advantage.

Mobile Capabilities

Leveraging mobile technology can help your businesses survive a shortage of workers by tackling one of the biggest workflow snags across industries: approvals and feedback. When you equip your staff with software tools they can use on their smartphones and tablets, you allow for more immediate and efficient communication.

For example, an office manager can upload an incoming customer request to a management system, and then send an immediate alert to an employee who is out on a job site. The employee can receive this alert via smartphone or tablet, and respond right away. Streamlining communication across platforms can help reduce the risk of obstacles to projects.

Some other ways to leverage mobile technology include:

  • Using apps to transform smartphones into broadcast radios, allowing you to communicate with workers, even when reception is minimal.
  • Enabling job site managers to make real-time adjustments to work priorities through tablets or smartphones — and communicate those adjustments to the entire team.
  • Investing in a group communication service for your employees that allows for instant group communication as well as document and video sharing. With many communication platforms, you can divide workers into group chats based on projects or responsibilities.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

One of the promising benefits of IoT is that it enables machines to self-identify when they require maintenance. As IoT means more and more appliances are online — from refrigerators to HVAC systems — manual identification of issues is becoming a thing of the past.

Instead of sending out a service technician to analyze why a client’s HVAC system or engine is making a strange sound, your business can receive automatic notifications when the system detects an error. Not only does this technology have the potential to significantly reduce unnecessary service calls, but it can make the necessary service calls more efficient; workers will arrive on the scene already informed of what needs to be fixed.

With the number of available workers rapidly declining, it’s sink or swim for many companies. Maximize the efficiency of the workers you do have to compensate for the ones you don’t. If you fail to embrace digital tools for efficiency, you risk burning out your workforce. When you start thinking smarter and leveraging advances in technology, you can make everything from scheduling to troubleshooting more efficient and less stressful for your lean workforce.

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Kevin Hutchinson is the Founder and CEO of MyTaskit, a comprehensive and user-friendly work coordination platform that businesses use to connect their service teams, subcontractors and customers. MyTaskit smooths the rough edges of service delivery so technicians get more done, customers are happier, and the business makes more money.

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