It’s official: The gig economy is coming to construction. While other industries have been quick to adapt to freelance employment, architects and engineers within the construction sector have lagged behind — and that is beginning to change. Here’s why the gig economy is coming for architects and engineers.
The majority of all workers will be freelance within the next ten years. The construction industry is set to shift with the rise and rise of the gig economy. This emerging style of employment opens up new talent pools and international workforces into construction for the first time. This type of gig economy will be serving an industry that desperately needs new workers on the ground.
The project to project nature of the gig economy marries perfectly with that of engineering and architecture.
Hiring in this way creates for leaner operations, allowing companies to save money. Companies can bid on more projects. Freelancing has already cleared the hurdles in tech — let’s unpack why now is the time for freelancing to reshape architecture and engineering.
Why globalization works.
The truth is that the gig economy works to solve a significant industry issue: worker scarcity. As noted by the World Economic Forum, the ongoing shortage of labor includes a shortage of talent for designers, architects, and higher levels of management. The labor shortage has an “undermined project management and execution, adversely affecting cost, timelines, and quality.”
Ultimately, time is money — and the lack of available, skilled workers and professionals are one of the biggest drivers of rising construction costs. Some cost of labor reports estimates the costs have increases of >30 percent annually.
This problem is further exacerbated by the current lack of globalization in architecture and engineering – two fields with workforces that largely transcend borders. While western engineering codes developed gradually over the last century, developing nations adopted those codes and often used them as a basis for developing their own.
This bias resulted in nearly identical codes and standards in those countries. For example, Saudi Arabia’s Highway Design Manual is almost an identical copy of the American rulebook, making for cities built on the American city model.
States like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar also adopted a mix of American and British codes for various engineering disciplines, from structural engineering to mechanical and electrical design.
In Lebanon, meanwhile, French engineering standards were used as the basis for the building codes as a remnant of colonization. Projects in many developing countries were based entirely on western engineering standards.
The standard was set that suited the government or the client, either due to the lack of a government-enforced standard or due to the inadequacies and shortcomings of local ones.
Copying codes results in worldwide standards, which translates into engineers and architects with skills that are more or less interchangeable. This is where freelancing makes sense in the sector. The right connection is being formed between workers and clients acting to globalize an industry that’s in desperate need of labor.
Why project work invites freelancers.
Architecture and engineering may appear like jobs better suited to workers who stay within the confines of one company or one country. The very nature of construction projects means they have a start and end dates. Construction has to start with conception, move onto the design, then construct and complete.
There are designs to be done, and these designs are simply an aggregation of tasks by different engineers and architects on the project team. The project is then further broken down into specific roles: the architect, structural engineer, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, geotechnical engineer, the draftsman, and more.
Set tasks and set deadlines mean that engineering and architecture align with the framework of the gig economy. The concept of the gig economy is based on hiring for specific jobs, but over the preceding decades, it has been dominated by the tech space. Engineering and architecture naturally lagged behind because they were not related to anything that had to do with the information age.
But this has slowly been changing with engineering and architecture becoming more commonly sought after on freelancing platforms. If trends continue, it is only a matter of time before the global industry is connected and working together on construction projects.
Even before the rise of the gig economy, companies in this industry had been outsourcing tasks and design jobs overseas or locally to other firms. Online platforms streamline this process and unlock global workers.
A win for workers, a win for companies.
There are plenty of macro and micro trends which impact upon whether companies are building at any given time. This means that flexible companies with an on-demand workforce are better placed to match the workflow of any given moment.
In busy periods, the company may be shorthanded and require additional employees to complete work on time, while leaner times means additional staff drain on company resources.
The company resources are where hiring from project to project makes complete sense for the company and the worker. The gig economy in construction means the removal of talent-management overheads, saving on recruitment costs and time, and human resources processes.
Workers have the freedom to pick and choose the jobs they want, and companies have the same benefit. Further, many companies avoid taking new projects due to shorthandedness. This is something online platforms and an extensive network of freelancers work to resolve, whereby the company’s human resources expands and contracts as needed.
Fluidity and flexibility is the aim of the game. The gig economy helps to create architecture and engineering companies which are – for the first time – free to pick and choose the jobs they do and the workers they hire.
Hiring in this way is integral when workers and skills are at a premium. Taking the employment process online is necessary for both the workers and the companies, modernizing an element of both sectors which needs change.