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Technology Trips on the Generation Gap

TUESDAY, JUNE 17, 2014


Time management is critical in design and construction, from conception to completion.

Technology can enable more effective time management, but the generation gap in today's workforce (sometimes, a multigenerational gap) has often hampered adoption and integration of new capabilities.

Could technology itself help bridge that gap?

Declining Productivity

Productivity has increased in almost every industry since the early 1960s—except construction. How is that possible, since technologies developed for the AEC industry were supposed to make design, procurement and construction more efficient?

U.S. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook

Technology has been developed to advance the AEC industry. But it has also revealed a digital divide across generations.

One view is that new technologies have led to (and revealed) generational challenges and resistance that actually impair time management, rather than improve it, just when the need for time management is more important than ever.

According to our research, the top five challenges in improving productivity are:

  • Lack of planning skills at the field-management level;
  • Lack of communication skills at the field-management level;
  • Cultural resistance to change;
  • Poor field-level communication between project management staff and field managers; and
  • Lack of technical training.

Each of these challenges relates directly or indirectly to poor time management. And weak time management breeds reactive behaviors.

Field staff must understand the importance of planning and, just as important, communicating that plan.

From Telephone to Twitter

Different generations communicate, plan and manage time differently. Older generations tend to be more comfortable in hierarchical structures and rudimentary technologies.

Younger generations rely on shared information technology (social media) and other media to communicate.

Hardhat on tablet
©iStock / shotbydave

Pleading ignorance of emerging technology is not an option for companies that want to succeed.

Technology is not a substitute for planning and communication skills, but it offers a mechanism to implement both efficiently.

The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” still rings true in construction. From superintendent to craftsman, we still frequently hear, “I don’t need a computer,” “I don’t know how to turn on a computer,” or “I don’t know how to use this phone.”

And yet, with the increased reliance on technology to design, construct and operate our built environment, pleading ignorance is no longer an option.

Bridging the Gap

“Not addressing intergenerational issues as a part of the early project planning and team-building processes can hurt productivity,” says Phillip Diab, PMP, CEO of Leadership Formation.

Disseminating knowledge and needs throughout the multigenerational project hierarchy is essential to meeting objectives, especially during planning.

The key is to leverage the full technological capabilities available to increase efficiency and productivity. This is best accomplished by developing a technology framework that allows firms to filter out the technological “noise” that does not support the organizational goals.

Making Friends with Change

According to a 2010 report in Occupational Health & Safety, more than 40 percent of construction workers are Baby Boomers. That means that the vast majority of that knowledge base will leave the industry in five to 10 years.

Building technology
U.S. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook

"Reverse mentoring" by younger or more junior staff could help bring older professionals up to speed on new technologies.

This shift will presents monumental challenges in transferring knowledge. Seasoned professionals who have long kept their vast breadth of knowledge in their heads must now learn to pass it on, and technology is a way to do so.

Reverse Mentoring

Change is inevitable. Whatever individuals’ resistance to it—fear of failure, pride, complacency—organizations must find ways to overcome it. Strategies include more training, reverse mentoring, and an organizational focus on the importance of technology.

Reverse mentoring occurs when a more seasoned, experienced or higher-ranking individual seeks guidance from a younger or lower-ranking colleague. The benefits include:

  • Identifying and developing high-potential employees;
  • Engaging across generations;
  • Promoting inclusion and knowledge sharing;
  • Establishing a feedback-rich environment; and
  • Relieving technology stress.

Typically, Generations X and Y are more comfortable with technology and promote the sharing of it. Reverse mentoring allows senior employees to learn from younger generations without fear, while also establishing a feedback-rich environment from which younger employees can learn and leverage into better time-management practices.

Now more than ever, AEC firms must be able to plan, share knowledge and use technology to improve productivity. A cross-generational approach should be your first consideration.

About the Author

Dustin Bass is a consultant with FMI Corp. specializing in productivity and project execution improvement for contractors.

Dustin Bass


Bass can be reached at 303.398.7247 or via email.



“Building Success” is written by professionals at FMI, the world’s largest provider of management consulting, investment banking, and research for the engineering and construction industry. FMI serves contractors, building materials and equipment producers,architects and engineers,owners and developers,and others across the industry. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Construction; Consultants; Engineers; FMI; Good Technical Practice; Information technology; Workers

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