By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

The construction sector is facing the same challenge already walloping manufacturing: automation replacing hundreds of thousands of middle-class workers over the next generation. The shift threatens families, neighborhoods, and the U.S. economy.

“Robots are now able to lay more bricks per day, build more yards of road per day, and construct buildings

in fewer days than human labor,” says a new report by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute.

It cites a Dutch company that has created a machine that lays up to 400 yards of brick road per day with the assistance of only a few operators. Automated 3-D printers now build structure segments, including bridges. And the automation juggernaut keeps growing faster and wider.

Nearly 2.7 million construction workers could be displaced or replaced by 2057, the report says, including 35 percent of laborers and up to 88 percent of operating engineers.

The report makes three key public policy recommendations:

  • Apprenticeship programs in the building trades should be utilized and adapted to train new workers and re-skill employees as specific trades become more automated.
  • States and local communities should collaborate with educational institutions to invest in vocational  training and worker re-training to prepare individuals for the jobs of the future.
  • As construction becomes more automated, lawmakers should consider taxing capital owned by contractors and investing the proceeds into young and displaced workers.

The report also is clear about the importance of transportation infrastructure to the U.S. economy, especially the freight sector.

“As the United States continues to grow, infrastructure investments and improvements will be needed to meet new demands and compete globally,” the report says. “Businesses pay $27 billion annually in additional freight costs due to poor conditions of transportation systems.