March 24, 2005

5 trends that will reshape mechanical contracting

  • Futurist Atul Dighe predicts that specialty contractor groups will work together as "virtual general contractors."

    During the next 15 years, technology and society will go through tremendous changes, and today's industries need to make sure they can keep up. That is why the Mechanical Contracting Education and Research Foundation, working in conjunction with the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, commissioned futurist Atul Dighe of Social Technologies to conduct a study on the top five future trends facing the mechanical contracting industry.

    The results were compiled in the report, "Five Key Trends for the Future of the Mechanical Contracting Industry," which identifies the challenges and opportunities in store between now and 2020.

    1. Workforce 2020

    To begin, the trend named Workforce 2020 reveals that the mechanical contracting industry will need to attract more youth and minorities to its ranks. Citing the 2000 Census, it notes that Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S. Their impact on society will increase during the next 20 years — and by 2010, Hispanics will be the largest population group in the prospective labor pool for the construction industry.

    As a continuing part of this trend, Baby Boomers will be welcoming their retirement years by 2020. The Wired or Millennial Generation, children born between 1980 and 2000, will start to enter the workforce by 2010 and contractors will need to learn how to attract and embrace this high-tech, racially integrated group which will become their future workforce.

    2. Evolving Value-Chain

    Evolving Value-Chain identifies the new revenue models of the future. Jobsite roles and skills are experiencing a blurring of boundaries. The study states, "By 2020, the distinctions among electrical, mechanical and sheet metal contractors will be tough to make." General contractors could be replaced by "virtual GCs" — groups comprised of specialty contractors working together.

    In addition, the next 10 years will see an increase in reverse auctions and direct purchases of equipment by end-users. Future profit may be based mostly on customer service, reliability and project coordination.

    3. Era of Rebuilding

    Era of Rebuilding speculates on how the industry will help restore America's infrastructure. The building boom of the 1960s created most of America's public buildings. Those structures are now entering the final years of their life-spans, and over the next 10 years the demand for the renovation of 1960s-era buildings and infrastructure will comprise a large portion of the commercial construction market.

    New buildings may not be the majority of business — instead, renovation may be the greater marketplace.

    4. Sensor Technology

    Predicting that Sensor Technology will change addresses the entire nature of the mechanical contracting industry. Today's sensors monitor a variety of factors, including temperature, air and water quality, location and more. But by 2015, sensor technology built into mechanical systems would be able to self-diagnose problems, warn of future difficulties and in some cases, even make repairs.

    The report goes on to state that retailing giant Wal-Mart is requiring products to be equipped with radio frequency identification tags. These tags will store and provide information on consumer behavior to the manufacturer — and could replace bar codes. Air conditioners and other equipment in our industry may come with the radio tags, supplying information on handling, installation and start-up.

    5. Materials Science

    Materials Science takes a look at the science of nanotechnology, which would allow industries to manipulate atoms to create new materials. The study noted, "nanotechnology will change the paradigm of construction from valve by valve, unit by unit, to atom by atom."

    The materials used in future construction might be significantly different from those used today. The first structure erected on any future jobsite could be a factory that will produce materials needed for the project.

    Nanotechnology may seem especially futuristic, but we have to remember that technology advances at a greater speed with each passing year. This just goes to show that today's science-fiction is tomorrow's reality.

    This report has done much to inform the mechanical contracting industry about upcoming changes in technology and society. MCA contractors are dedicated to staying on top of upcoming trends, so they can be proactive instead of reactive, and have a greater impact on their own futures.

    Stephen L. Lamb, CAE, is the marketing spokesperson for the Mechanical Contractors Association Local Affiliates, the city and regional associations of the national MCAA. He is also the executive vice president of MCA of Chicago.

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