THE ‘tradie’ of the future is more likely to wear Google glasses than a tool belt as technological changes transform the manufacturing and construction sectors.
Industry experts say digital disruption will challenge traditional skills and methods but also breathe new life into 19th century crafts such as stonemason and ship building.
According to Manufacturing Skills Queensland (MSQ), there have been large job losses in traditional trades such as shipwright, vehicle builder and food processor in the last few years as automation and cheap imports hit the sector.
Increasingly the workers who will survive the coming revolution will be those who are tech savvy. MSQ says there is a growing need for manufacturing workers with skills such as computer-aided design (CAD).
Construction Skills Queensland chief executive Brett Schimming said traditional trades were not dying, merely adapting to new market conditions.
Mr Schimming said about 60 apprentices were now being trained in the ancient craft of stonemasonry in Queensland. However, these days a stonemason is more likely to operate a $400,000 computerised cutting machine rather than a hammer and chisel.
“In the past, stonemasonry would have been a real structural trade, but now it’s more an architectural craft,” Mr Schimming said.
Basil Harvey, director of educational support services at TAFE Skills Tech, said trade training had to keep pace with rapid technological change.
“Stonemasons now use computer-aided design and software,” Mr Harvey said. “You don’t see much hammering and chiselling these days.”
Gary Shaw, managing director of Brisbane’s Bendix Business Furniture, said furniture making had been transformed from one based on craft skills to one reliant on computer design.
Mr Shaw said that rather than traditional methods of joinery and carpentry, tradesman now used computerised cutting machines that did much of the work.
“It is more of an assembly job (for the workers),” Mr Shaw said. “The machines cut the boards and drill the holes.”
Mr Shaw said that while tradespeople still learnt the traditional ways, when they did their apprenticeship the workplace does not stress these skills.
He said technology had improved productivity to such an extent that less workers were now required.
“This is not necessarily good for Queensland manufacturing jobs,” Mr Shaw said.
Bendix has employed as many as 130 people but now has 55 workers.
Manufacturing has been in decline in Queensland for the past two decades. In the mid-1990s, manufacturing accounted for 11 in every 100 jobs in Queensland. It now only accounts for 7 in every 100.
Boatbuilding, which harks backs to the 1800s in Queensland, is a barely recognisable trade in the era of computer-aided design.
Chris Hough, general manager of Hervey Bay boat builder BtB Marine, said constructing a boat now is much like putting together a meccano set with the help of a computer.
Mr Hough said computerised cutting machines following a digital blueprint now precisely cut out all the pieces of the boat ready to be welded or glued together.
He added that design calculations about seaworthiness that used to be done on paper could now be done much quicker by a computer.
“Boat building has changed a lot,” he said. “All our workers have to be able to use the computerised equipment.”
The construction sector is set to see some of the biggest digital disruptions in the years ahead as builders move to cut costs and introduce new technology.
Alan Waldron, national training manager with Hutchinson Builders, says builders will increasingly have to access technology on building sites, use iPads and perhaps even wearable devices such as Google Glass.
A new process called Building Information Modelling (BIM) will allow tradespeople to access digital plans on-site and trouble shoot for problems.
“BIM will allow you to see down into the various layers of the building and perhaps show that the electrical wiring is blocking a pipe,” Mr Waldron said. “Previously this wasn’t possible.”
Mr Waldron said Hutchinson, which employs 100 apprentices, aimed to train tradespeople who were versatile and adaptive.
“The days of just being a carpenter are gone,” he said. “Increasingly they will have to interface with technology.”
Originally published as ‘Queensland trades go hi-tech as digital disruption hits factory floor’ at http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/queensland-trades-go-hi-tech-as-digital-disruption-hits-factory-floor/story-fnihsps3-1227179660091?sv=782717c404ccc132df70cbcd2f066d20#.VLLtJtk4aEY.twitter