Courtesy of NFPA
Has your organization embraced digitalization to drive long-term resiliency yet?

Workforce and Structural Resiliency: How Digital Tools Can Help

June 27, 2023
Resiliency stands at the center of fire and life safety, and for good reason. Embracing digitalization can strengthen resiliency.

Resiliency stands at the center of fire and life safety, and for good reason. The goal is to construct and maintain resilient buildings that are both safe and resistant to fire, electrical and related hazards. And for all businesses, establishing a resilient employee workforce is equally critical. However, resiliency is not easy to develop—and the past two years have proven to us that many organizations were not as resilient as they thought. Digital tools can help organizations not only establish resilient infrastructure, but also integrate resiliency in the way they run their businesses.

Embracing digitalization can strengthen resiliency in each of these categories. By moving away from a reliance on physical resources and traditional collaboration, and towards digital tools with enhanced interactivity, access, and collaboration, organizations can save money and drive long-term resiliency in both their structures and workforces.

A Resilient Workforce

Workforce resiliency will be vital to the success of skilled trade professionals moving forward, especially in the face of an aging workforce compounded with labor scarcity. The average age of a tradesman is 55, and for every three tradesmen who retire, there is only one trained professional to fill their work boots. That means that in order to stand the test of time, organizations will need to find and retain talented new hires and arm them with the skills they need to succeed in the long term.

Digital tools can add value in helping cultivate a skilled, self-reliant and resilient workforce by putting the source of knowledge in employees’ hands. It’s difficult to develop a do-it-yourself culture when knowledge is not easily accessible to all employees. Digital tools provide employees with portable, easily accessible resources right in their pockets. This allows facility managers, building owners, contractors and more to efficiently access critical resources (notes from teammates, diagrams, supplemental resources, etc.) that keep buildings safe. When questions arise, they’ll be more likely to seek out the information on their own, leading to greater learning and more informed decision-making.

Digital tools can also help institutionalize knowledge from veterans for newer employees’ benefit. In the facilities world, 23% of facility managers have worked in the field for more than 20 years. As seasoned Baby Boomers retire in the coming years, organizations need to find ways to capture and share their wisdom in centralized digital hubs so that future generations can learn. With digital tools, industry veterans can document invaluable insight directly within the code, make future-proofed collections of their notes, and share across the organization. Succession planning will help to combat the Great Retirement and arm future generations with the knowledge to succeed.

Additionally, digital transformation can serve as a competitive edge when attracting talent. A 2023 NFPA Industry Trends Survey found that 68% of skilled trade workers feel a desire to work with innovative, non-traditional tools. However, Stanley Black & Decker’s 2022 Makers Index found that 23% of young people don’t believe that skilled tradespeople work with cutting edge technology. Those beliefs are in contrast with reality, however: that same survey found that 89% of skilled workers report they do indeed work with cutting edge technology. Organizations will need to break down this misconception and flex their digital capabilities—highlighting improved efficiency, collaboration, and professional development—in order to resonate with younger generations of innovative professionals.

Building and Maintaining Resilient Facilities

A facility is built once but maintained for decades. This means resiliency needs to be top-of-mind from the outset, in design and construction, so that buildings can stand the test of time. However, with a lack of digital collaboration tools, the people in charge of maintaining facilities are often brought into a project too late to capitalize on their value. In fact, NFPA’s Industry Trends Survey found that 40% of respondents believe the biggest opportunity for technology to improve their day-to-day work on the jobsite would be for ease of communication between team members.

Digital collaboration tools allow all stakeholders to be brought into the fold from the outset. This is particularly useful when we think of resiliency because it can surface additional considerations regarding long-term maintainability, durability, safety, and cost of operations. For example, it might be worth the investment to install a more expensive fire protection system that has a lower cost to maintain throughout the life of the system.

With digital tools, all stakeholders can collaborate in one up-to-date, centralized hub, no matter where they are. With fire and life safety codes and standards, for example, professionals can create notes and bookmarked collections and then easily share that knowledge with teammates. This same access to knowledge and collaboration that strengthens workforce resiliency also helps improve efficiency and accuracy that keeps buildings resilient.

Key Takeaways

Resilience is the tentpole value of the construction and maintenance of every facility. It should also stand at the center of any strong workforce development strategy. Emerging digital tools allow organizations to unlock new efficiencies, collaboration, and professional development opportunities empowering businesses to be truly resilient in every sense of the word. By investing in digital transformation, organizations are better equipped to tolerate volatility and cultivate sustainable, long-term success.

About the Author

Brian O’Connor

Brian O’Connor, P.E., is a fire protection engineer for NFPA.

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