Imagining the future of the construction industry

With the arrival of the New Year, industry expert Dr Gretchen Gagel envisions a bright future for the Australian construction industry.

Imagining the future of the construction industry
Dr Gretchen Gagel.

By Dr Gretchen Gagel.

I was recently viewing a TEDx Talk by Dan Gilbert, entitled The Psychology of Your Future Self, that I use in my MBA class at the Australian National University and the University of Denver to explore our individual reaction to change. In it, Dan states that part of the challenge when enacting change is the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.

This is a powerful statement and applicable to the global construction industry. It is easy for us to remember how we’ve done things in the past, to hold onto those memories and practices that are comfortable to us. It’s much harder to imagine the future of our industry and how we will evolve over the next decade. While reflection upon the past is a good practice, I took time this month to imagine what the future might hold for the construction industry.

Artificial intelligence

I envision a future where we have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing to leverage the enormous amount of data we’ve collected in our industry for many purposes:

  • Predictive safety behaviour;
  • Planning and productivity enhancement;
  • Design efficiency; and
  • Sustainability and energy efficiency.

How are we doing this? By embracing AI in the same way we embraced the internet. By investing in AI research and development as an industry. Large shifts in the industry are typically driven by the client. We need clients to push their engineering and construction partners to step up to the AI plate. We need to step aside and let the next generation of tech-savvy leaders drive a digital revolution.

Industry culture

I envision a future where the work of the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce is no longer needed. We have created a safe, less stressful work environment that meets the needs of diverse individuals. We have attracted the best talent in the world because these people know that society is entrusting them with the building and maintenance of our precious assets, assets that support the existence and survival of humanity.

How are we doing this? Senior leaders in our industry are demanding inclusion of their people and teams. We are modelling respectful, inclusive behaviour and creating company policies that support our workforce and their needs. We have zero tolerance for less than inclusive behaviour and are projecting an industry brand of professionalism and inclusivity.


I wrote about sustainability in the last issue of Inside Construction, but more broadly I envision a world where we are one of the most important players in ensuring the sustainability of our planet and human life.

How are we doing this? We are sitting at the table with global leaders to solve complex problems related to the sustainability of our planet. We are respected for our problem-solving skills in addressing energy disruption, water shortages, high winds, fires – all types of threats to the existence of humankind. We are revered for our role in solving these challenges in the same way that athletes, musicians and actors are revered today. And we are compensated for the tremendous value we bring to the planet.

Collaboration and trust

I envision a future where the major stakeholders of our industry – clients, engineering and construction firms, and suppliers – trust one another. We have each other’s back and are working together to deliver construction in the fastest, safest, most cost-effective and quality manner possible.

How are we doing this? We’ve stopped playing the ‘poker game’. We are utilising AI-provided data to understand the benefits of collaboration on project and program delivery. We are training our people to collaborate and build trusting relationships. Senior leaders are demanding collaboration and clients are contracting in a way that facilitates collaboration.

Empowering transformation

Sit back for a moment. Envision the Australian construction industry in 10 years – collaborative, inclusive, data-driven, the heroes of society for building and sustaining the assets of humankind. Ask yourself – what can I do, as a leader, formal or informal, to lead the construction industry towards this vision?

Don’t think of it as an elephant, an overwhelming, insurmountable obstacle. Your actions, each and every day, influence how our industry behaves and how it is viewed by society.

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