Skip to content

Using technology to prevent MSDs

Musculoskeletal Disorders Symposium 2017

Robert Sobyra

Presented by: Robert Sobyra (Director of Evidence and Data, Construction Skills Queensland)

Run time: 42:45

Download a copy of this podcast (MP3, 20 MB)

Download the presentation slides for Presentation 2: Using technology to prevent MSDs (PDF, 1.19 MB)

Presentation 2: Using technology to prevent MSDs

Presented by: Robert Sobyra (Director of Evidence and Data, Construction Skills Queensland)

[Start of transcript]

Nita Maynard:

Okay. We might kick off. If everyone wants to make their way in, and there are plenty of seats up the front.

A few more coming in the back there.

Okay. Thank you everyone for coming along to the good work design stream. As a reminder, you are able to move between streams. So after the presentation now we'll have a few minutes and you can move to another room if you wish or stay here. We'll be having two presentations before we move to lunch.

Before we introduce Rob, I'd just like to highlight that we have had a presenter change at the last minute. It was going to be Rob Hanson, but instead we have Rob Sobyra. Hopefully I'm pronouncing that right. And Rob was able to step in at the last minute, and he'll be covering technology in the construction industry and musculoskeletal disorders.

We've got a few more people coming in.

Plenty of chairs up the front.

Okay. Rob is the Director of Evidence and Data with Construction Skills Queensland, here in Brisbane. He's a leading thinker at the intersection of construction and skills. Rob will share some insights from the Farsight Project, a research initiative exploring the future of construction work.

Recently his work in this space has raised some important implications for the role of technology within work health and safety, in maintaining a skilled and capable construction workforce into the future. So if you'll all join with me to welcome Rob. Thanks.


Robert Sobyra:

Thanks Nita. Hello everyone. Yes, I am Plan B, so hopefully I'll still be able to give you some interesting information. I'm going to start by telling you a bit of a story, because I'm a bit of an unlikely bedfellow at an event like this. So I'm a labour economist right. My job is to count the number of workers rather than get into these sorts of deep important issues.

And so I work for this organisation, it's a non-profit – Construction Skills Queensland – and essentially we take a little slice of money out of every major project in the state and we reinvest that back into skills and training – that's our core business – so that workers don't have to reach too deeply into their own pockets to get upskilled and reskilled and all that sort of stuff.

So how did we get to be interested or involved in this issue that I can't even properly pronounce, so I'm just going to call it MSDs if that's okay with everyone. Well it all started a few years ago.

We, like many people, were quite taken aback by these sorts of headlines, this sort of research that started popping up that was suggesting huge amounts of technological disruption to jobs and skills and employment and things like that. And when you look into the fine detail of some of this work, it singled out construction a lot for some of the biggest effects. And so we saw these sort of predictions from people like Oxford and PwC, you know, not known for their really radical fringe thinking. These are quite conservative organisations. And we thought well if they're even half right we've got some pretty seismic shifts coming down the pipeline.

So we started with this cornerstone piece of research that we called the Farsight Report, and we did this collaboratively with CSIRO. And our research question was basically what is the future of jobs and skills in construction, and once we got into it we kind of realised that if you listen to the sort of Silicon Valley types, you kind of get the impression that this sort of march of technology is just inevitable and that robots are going to come and take all our jobs and really there's nothing we can do about it. But when you get into it, it's a little more complicated than that. Technological change and that sort of thing is mediated by cultural factors and human factors and social political forces, and the key lesson there is that no technology, no matter how great, has ever taken hold or has ever gained traction in a market unless there has been a real problem that it needs to solve and unless it can overcome some social and political factors.

So the first thing we need to do when we start looking at skills and disruption is really to understand what are the drivers or the catalysts that might be happening that would open the door for significant technology to come in. And this is where I get to the health and safety and the injury and the MSD kind of implications, because probably the biggest driver that we see as catalysing technological disruption in the construction industry is this ageing population problem. Sorry, I actually shouldn't call it a problem anymore. It's actually an opportunity.

Some economists at Harvard recently did some research looking at different countries with different levels of ageing populations and looked at their economic growth, and they actually found a statistically significant increase in growth for those that have an ageing population. So ageing actually seems to contribute to growth more rather than what the conventional wisdom might be, that ageing populations slow down economic prosperity and growth in countries. That doesn't seem to be the case. And a possible reason for that is because an ageing population, an issue like that, really provides a catalyst for automation and innovation and things like that, which is what we've seen in Japan for example and I'll talk a bit about that later.

But anyway, in Australia we discovered that this ageing population problem is going to have huge ramifications for the construction industry. And by the way, a lot of people don't realise that construction industry employs at last count 1.2 million people Australia wide. It's like 10 per cent of the entire workforce in the country, and that doesn't include your architects, engineers, real estate agents that all sort of hang off the construction industry. So it's a pretty big chunk of the economy that's going to be affected by forces like this.

So, to this chart. This chart was produced by a Productivity Commissioner. He did an excellent study into the ageing population and its economic implications. And the projections are that our participation rate, so the proportion of the population that's actually working, is going to shrink pretty – it's really going to collapse out to 2050, and by the time we get to 2040 the working age segment of our population is actually going to stop growing. So our population as a whole keeps growing, but those that are actually working won't keep growing. So we'll need to keep building more houses, more bridges, more roads and all that sort of stuff, because there's more and more people living here. But we'll need to be doing that with a static workforce, so we'll need to be producing more with the same amount of human resources.

Now that's not the only implication of course of an ageing population, and this is where it really comes to bite in the construction industry. Prior to doing this job I was a Commonwealth public servant. So I've never done a hard day of work in my life, but I'm told – and that's not quite true, because I'm a bit of an amateur woodworker right, and so I kind of know what it's like to work on the tools. And I myself have a persistent case of tennis elbow that I need to get treated sort of once a month, and that's like working weekends and things like that. If you're on the tools every single day and you're 20 or 30, that's hard work. If you're 40 or 50 and you're on the tools every single day and you've been on the tools for the last 40 years every single day, the amount of stress and fatigue and injury that's accumulating in your body is just quite remarkable, particularly when you're working in the old school methods that still sort of dominate the industry today, and this of course is where MSDs come in.

There's some really interesting literature from around the world on MSDs in construction. So as an issue it's three times more frequent than in the general workforce. That's not necessarily that surprising. But it's also one and a half times more frequent than in other blue collar occupations like manufacturing. So I found that quite surprising, that it's 150 per cent more frequent in construction than in comparable manual kind of work. It's most commonly caused by over-exertion. Forty per cent of cases take the form of back injuries, and each case results in about 13 days off work. Now this was a study done in Germany. It followed a cohort of about 15,000 construction workers, and similar results are found in other parts of the world including America and the UK.

So construction is really, really at the pointy end of this problem of MSDs and injury. It really is a hazardous environment and it takes a huge toll on the worker's body.

When you look at disability rates, this is where I find it really interesting and this is where it comes together with this ageing population phenomenon.

So up until your sort of late 40s, incidence is high but the growth in incidence isn't really compounding that badly. But then when you look at that jump from your late 40s to your late 50s, that's a 625 per cent increase in that decade. So something happens to the body I guess in that time period as you move into your 50s as a construction worker. If you're still on the tools, you're 625 per cent sort of more likely than you were 10 years ago to acquire a disability. Now this is disability rates as a whole. And when we look at MSDs as a proportion of those disability rates, you find a similar pattern. So pretty stable. About 25 per cent of disabilities, acquired disabilities in construction are in that sort of MSD category. But then when you jump to the late 50s, it's literally half of all disabilities is a result of MSDs.

So it really is quite an important issue for our industry. And as our population obviously gets older so does our construction workforce, so there's going to be a lot more workers in that late 50 category than there ever were. The traditional sort of career path trajectory I guess if you like for a construction worker is to be on the tools through your 20s and your 30s into your 40s, but once you're in your 40s the idea is you get off the tools, maybe you go on to supervisory functions and things like that. You certainly don't stay on the tools into your 50s, into your 60s. But we think with the ageing population that that under our current operating models just isn't going to be sustainable. The industry simply won't be able to produce what it needs to produce unless those workers keep working well into their 50s and even their 60s.

And just to put a little icing on the cake I suppose, a significant chunk of employers seem to think that an ageing population isn't going to affect their organisation. And I hazard a guess – I have no data to back this up – but I hazard a guess that in the construction industry this is an even more acute kind of mentality than other industries because we're quite dogged and head in the sand kind of thing, and it's just the way it's always been done. You just get on with the work and push through the injury, and that whole cultural piece I think is working against us as well.

So the upshot of all of that is that the construction industry in Australia is going to be in a position going forward where we have to produce more buildings because our population keeps growing – more infrastructure, more homes and so on – but we will be doing that with fewer workers, older workers who are less efficient because they're more injured, they're taking more time off work, they can't work as quickly as they did, they can't carry as much as they could when they were 20 or 30. So this is the sort of reality that we're facing, and this is how we came to take this research around the future of skills and jobs in construction and really start thinking about the injury and the WHS implications of that, because we think it's going to be a huge piece that will open the door to some technological change and some very different ways of building that will deal with some of these issues around the ageing workforce and injury and so on.

So, to the solutions.

As with a lot of things in life, it's often good to look to Japan and see what precedent they've set. Their ageing population situation makes ours look positively benign. So by 2050 literally half of their population will be of working age. Where they are today is where we will be in 2050. So they're way ahead in terms of the ageing population situation. A quarter of their over 65s are still actively in the workforce, the real retirement age. Not the official one, but the real age that people move out of the workforce into retirement is about 70 in Japan at the moment. The average construction worker is 52 years old, so that's a median. So that means 50 per cent of construction workers are actually older than 52 and 50 per cent are younger. So an extraordinary number of their workforce are actually in that high 50s, very high risk cohort. And their workforce will be 44 per cent smaller in 2050 than in 2000.

So Japan is today where we will be in 2050, so it gives us a bit of an insight into the challenges you'll be facing and certainly gives us an insight into how they've dealt with it, because they have dealt with it. The interesting thing about Japan is that they haven't stopped building and they haven't had a shortage of workers. They have had a shortage of workers, but they haven't had that translate into a problem of not being able to deliver enough houses and buildings and so on. And in a typical sort of Japanese sort of Shinto ethic, they reframe the problem. They don't talk about having a workforce problem, they talk about having a productivity problem. And I think that's a really interesting way of looking at it, because they have been able to produce more buildings with a lot fewer workers and a lot less sort of efficient workers.

And a lot of it comes down to the prefabricated building methods, so prefabrication. Everyone's familiar with prefabrication. It happens the world over. And Japan at 25 per cent isn't the world leader in terms of market share of prefabrication. Sweden for example, 80 per cent of houses in Sweden are prefabricated. In Japan it's 25 per cent, but the way they do it is very, very different to anywhere else. So most prefabrication in other countries, including Australia, is to a price. So it's all about getting costs down and it's lower quality sort of buildings. In Japan it's the other way around. So in Japan a prefabricated house is the premium end of the market, and the more premium the product, the more market share that prefabricated building companies have. So they're actually operating prefabrication as a way to get quality as well as productivity.

And there's some big players involved. Most people don't know that Toyota makes homes just like it makes cars, and I mean just like it makes cars. You can jump on YouTube and have a look at Toyota's prefabricated factory Toyota Homes, and it looks just like you would expect its car manufacturing operation to look. It's highly automated, a lot of robotics and mechanisation. Each component gets moved to workers rather than workers moving to the components. And then there's these other players. Daiwa House in the top right are the biggest player, and I think they're producing about 100,000 homes a year through prefabrication. Sekisui House has actually opened up operations here in Australia. The West Village down here at West End is being built by Sekisui House. And Muji is actually the Walmart of Japan, and they have even started selling prefabricated buildings.

So they put a lot of effort into this sort of factory based way, and the results that they get from this effort is three to four houses per employee every year. I mean imagine that. Imagine being able to produce three to four houses for every employee in a building operation. I mean that is unheard of in any sort of conventional building method, and that's with 85 per cent of the work done in the factory.

So there's a lot of benefits that come with doing that. So first and foremost it solves your problem of having fewer workers. So you're producing the same amount or more with fewer, fewer workers. But it also delivers some fantastic efficiency and injury prevention kind of opportunity. So as soon as you move something off a very hazardous construction site into a factory, you have the opportunity to deploy automation, robotics and things like that much more easily. So you'll see components and the different aspects of the building getting moved to the workers rather than the workers moving to the components. You get gantries rather than workers lifting things and carrying them around.

Rather than workers physically having to move things around, machines are doing the moving. So immediately you get this sort of safety dividend once you move things into a factory. And I think there's a cultural difference between the safety ethic on a construction site compared to the safety ethic in a factory. And to take, albeit an extreme example, the photo on the left I actually took myself. I saw this actually happen at a construction site. The guy put a ladder up to get on top of this module and the ladder didn't reach all the way to the top, so he stood up on the very top rung of the ladder and just jumped up, grabbed on to the top and hoisted himself up. And I thought gee, that was clever. How the hell are you going to get down? And of course there was a sort of two-metre gap between him and the ladder. He couldn't get back on the ladder. So they just swung the crane over, he jumped into the cradle and they swung him down.

And this sort of stupidity, I wouldn't like to say that it's rife on construction sites, but it definitely happens. And there's just that cultural sort of cowboy ethic that does float around particularly in the smaller players. It certainly doesn't happen on your big player sites like your Hutchinson site or a Watpac site or something like that, but when you're talking about small home builders and things like that, stupid things do happen.

I just have a sense once you move things into scale, into a factory, the ethic changes. You can't go into a factory these days that don't have one of these signs up on the right that are really putting front and centre the safety record and injury prevention and WHS and all those types of things. So I think the mere act of prefabrication and moving things into factories and off construction sites will avoid some intrinsic hazards, but will also help to generate some cultural changes that we need in the industry to minimise injury.

Now there's one particular type of technology that's just come on to the horizon in the last sort of 5 years but it's accelerating extremely quickly, that I really wanted to highlight today, because I think its application in construction and specifically to prevent MSDs is really quite impressive. So they're called exosuits or exoskeletons. Some of you may have heard of them. Some people refer to them as robots that you wear, and what they do is you strap it on and the suit will lift the first 15 or 20 kilos of whatever it is you're lifting so that you only have to lift say five kilos or something. So for an older gentleman like this who's a banker – I don't think he's a bank robber – it's assisting him to lift quite a significant amount of money and he's just wearing this device. Now some of these devices are motorised, some of them are passive devices that use counterweights and flexible materials.

What's interesting about this particular one, so it's been developed by a company called Cyberdyne, and you'll notice the logo on the bottom right, Daiwa House, was the biggest fabricated housing manufacturer in Japan that I referred to before. So they've actually got the sales and distribution rights for this particular type of exosuit, and I thought that was an interesting coincidence. And I suspect it probably isn't a coincidence that a massive manufacturer of prefabricated housing is looking to get in on the exosuit game. Lots of big companies are involved in it. This is a Panasonic suit which is used in airline logistics and warehousing.

Lowes, the big American retailer, actually has a subsidiary called Lowes Innovation Labs where they experiment with all sorts of new technologies in the retailing space, and they've developed their own exosuit for their workers, for manual handling workers. And this one is a passive one. So that uses flexible materials and things like that to just provide a little bit of back support to the manual handling tasks.

Now I want to tell you how it works, but I'm not going to explain it as well as this guy. So I've just got a little video here.

[Start video playback]

Male speaker:

We've created a garment that's close fitting and comfortable, which is really important, and it's designed so that the structure of the textile, the load pads that the suit creates over the body, mimic the function of the underlying muscles and tendons. And so when we apply force in the suit, this is acting in parallel with biological muscles and tendons.

With our actuation scheme, batteries and motors are mounted at the waist and then we use cables to transmit forces to the joints.

For a wearable robot to really help with walking, it's really critical for it to provide the right level of assistance at the right time for the wearer.

For these systems we need new types of sensors that are soft and can easily integrate into these wearable garments to be able to monitor forces and monitor movements. Using these two pieces of information, we're able to trigger when the actuation applies assistance.

[End video playback]

Robert Sobyra:

So it's not a simple thing to get right. And exosuits have been sort of experimented with now for a couple of decades, but it's only in the last five years that the sensors have got that good, the computing power required to translate those sensors into very fine movements in motors and things like that, that's actually made it intuitive. So when you're walking it almost feels like it's not there.

And so it's really coming of age, and the other big shift that's happening at the same time is around battery power. So these are quite energy intensive, so batteries need to be able to shrink down so you're not lugging around a massive backpack full of batteries to make this stuff happen. So all of this is really coming to fruition now, and we're going to start seeing this stuff on the market in more and more micro and miniature forms, and I think it will just solve a lot of issues.

And just to give you a sense of some of the use cases here in the construction industry, this particular example is a back pulling there, the biggest form of MSDs in the construction industry within that older cohort are back issues.

And when you look at any construction site, the amount of work that involves some pretty serious loads and repetitive loads on your back, they're just everywhere. So the opportunities for this to cut down on injury and prevent chronic pain.

Okay. So that just gives you a bit of a sense I guess of where these exosuits are going and the potential they might have. Before I finish, I just want to finish with a bit of a cautionary tale. So I said at the start that it's quite easy when you look at these technologies to get carried away with them and think my goodness, it's going to change the world as we know it. But nothing changes unless the people are ready to adopt the change and unless the social and political circumstances are right.

So I just wanted to use an example here. So there's a little town in Pakistan that makes 60 per cent of the world's competition grade soccer balls. So something like 60 million soccer balls a year are made in this one little town with a population of about 700,000 people. So a group of researchers came into this town and they optimised the way that you cut the hexagons out for the soccer balls out of the rectangles of leather, and they just gave this technology away free to all the factories in the town and said, 'Tight margins. Use this technology. You'll get a little more hexagon out of a given piece of leather. It's a no brainer. Why wouldn't you use it?'

So the factory owners adopted it with great zeal and tried to roll it out in their factories. It lasted about two months and then every single one of the factories abandoned the technology. And why did they abandon it? The one reason that was repeatedly given was employee resistance. So the problem with the technology is that it came with a learning curve, and these workers get paid piece rates, so they get paid essentially by how many hexagons they can churn out in a given shift. And this new technology, while far more efficient, was actually slowing them down so they were getting paid less.

Now they didn't communicate it in that way to the bosses, they just started telling the bosses that the technology doesn't work, it's less efficient. Just made up a whole bunch of stuff and just generally resisted the technology in the way that's only possible for workers to be able to do in any large organisation. I think we've all had experience with that. And I just thought it's such a great example of how if you implement a technology and the benefits of the technology, say, accrue to owners but the costs are borne by workers, costs in the form of retraining, skilling and learning – not necessarily monetary costs – but that's a huge source of resistance and we should never underestimate the ability of a motivated workforce to stop something dead in its tracks no matter how much management or owners would like the technology to be implemented.

So while lots of opportunity for technology disruption and adoption in construction and many other industries – and I'm sure you can extrapolate – we should never forget that human component, and I think that might be the point that everything pivots on for this next phase of innovation.

So that's all I had. I hope I provided something of interest. I'm quite happy to – or would you like to – take questions.

Nita Maynard:

Thanks Rob. Thanks Rob. That was fantastic. One thing I'm not sure if you touched on, which you might be able to answer quickly, I've seen you present before and you talked about self-healing concrete that – so there's quite a range of other technologies as well that can take some of the grunt work out.

Robert Sobyra:

Yeah. Yeah. Sure.

Yeah. So aside from the sort of robotics and the automation that I focused on, there's a lot of labour-saving technologies that are kind of just on the radar now but are starting to come to market that do have potential. So Nita referred to self-healing concrete. So there's a lot of these advanced materials. So one of the biggest sort of sinks of man hours, particularly laborious man hours, is actually repairing concrete. So concrete cracks and it's just a fact of life and some bloke has to go around – it's 99 per cent of the time a bloke – and he has to repair that concrete. And it's very laborious, very heavy work.

Scientists have basically created a type of concrete that will heal itself. So it cracks, and it's got a sort of micro-organism inside it, so it's actually a living material, and as it cracks the air causes the micro-organism to grow and then it just heals itself.

There's other technologies like graphene, which is as thin as paper but stronger than steel. So extremely light, extremely, strong, that means that structural elements in buildings don't always have to be extremely heavy, which obviously has injury prevention implications and allows us to build things with much fewer materials that are a lot lighter and higher performing.

So there's a lot of different technologies on the market that have the ability to both save labour – so that's solving our fewer worker problem – but also the labour that we do employ is being employed in a far less hazardous, far less manual strenuous kind of way.

Nita Maynard:

Thanks Rob. And certainly I know 3D printing, you highlighted that as well, technology in that respect. I'll open up the floor now if anyone has any questions they'd like to ask Rob. We have a roaming microphone at the back of the room. So we have one here. Carl?

Audience member:

Thanks Rob. That was really good. With some of the exoskeletons and all the use of technology, do you know if they are also looking at using that to determine musculoskeletal strengths in the body, not only to actually prevent – to support the lifting, but also to determine whether or not there's imbalances in the strength of those people that are – any research going into that as well?

Robert Sobyra:

To be honest mate I wouldn't have a clue. I'm sure that's an interesting question though for you and your colleagues, and I'd encourage you to look into it. But no, unfortunately I don't have any information about that.

Nita Maynard:

Anyone else?

Deidre at the back there? Sorry, over here?

Audience member:

You mentioned earlier about prefabrication and modular design. Where do you see the skilled workforce heading in that direction for a future like tradesmen and that sort of thing?

Robert Sobyra:

Yeah. That's a great question, and that's the main question that we're grappling with. So two things are happening with prefabrication and generally the factory-isation of construction if you like. It creates high-level more sophisticated skills around the use of say CNC machines and technology and things like that, but there's also a very deskilling aspect to it. So the role of carpenters on site to piece these things together is far less skilled and craftsman than what it used to be. So what's happening is a hollowing out of that core middle subset of trade skills that have been the backbone of the construction industry, so much fewer of those sort of core trade skills are required. And relatively large labour, just general labour, and relatively large high-skilled people – so sort of a dumbbell effect is happening.

Audience member:

Rob, one of the things we've experienced a lot when we were out on sites is that often what's popular isn't what is best evidence-based practice. And we've seen that with the popularity of back belts and a whole heap of gadgets over the years. And looking at this new exciting technology, I guess a comment is we hope that it's really evidence based, that it can demonstrate that it's not increasing musculoskeletal injury risks, and that if it is evidence based how we can get it to become popular and taken up in a very male dominated workforce. So there's two issues. One is that it's evidence based, that it actually does what it's meant to do, and secondly if it does, how do we get uptake in the industry. And I think that your type of work may have a great opportunity there.

Robert Sobyra:

Yeah. And may I say Deidre it's really interesting you bring up the evidence-based point of view, because when you look into even the academic literature on these exoskeletons, they're almost 100 per cent around the technicalities of these things and how to get them to work. I haven't yet seen any really compelling studies that look into, do they actually prevent MSDs, do they get the outcomes that they're designed to do. So we're in that stage that every technology goes through, where it's a bright new flashy thing and we're kind of enamoured by it. And I'm sure down the track someone will actually turn their mind to whether it actually gets the job done.

Audience member:

As we move from the traditional styles of construction into what is quite a manufacturing space, how do you see that impacting on the traditional apprenticeship space? Because we're encouraging people to come into the industry on apprenticeships that are traditional apprenticeships. That's being reviewed over and over again based on those traditional skills. When and where will this come into that space?

Robert Sobyra:

Yeah. Yeah. And the more things change the more they stay the same right when it comes to apprenticeships. So for those of you not in this sort of space, the apprenticeship system was invented in the middle ages, and it basically remains intact. So the idea is you do all your training in the first four years of your career, and then you stop training and you just master that skill for the next 40 years of your career.

How does that work, how does that model survive in an environment of constant change and technological innovation, and needing to relearn new ways of doing things, new building methods, new machines and tools and that sort of thing? I think that is a massive question for the people who oversee the apprenticeship system, and I know it's something they're looking at. But it's one of those issues where there's no real easy answer.

And a related issue is how construction blends into manufacturing. So at the moment there's quite a big firewall between the two. Once you move someone off a construction site, they become a manufacturing worker once they're inside a factory, and that has a whole host of implications. It's going to trigger a lot of cultural and system kind of effects that no one's really thought about yet, not the least of which is that the construction union will be trying to hold on to its base while the manufacturing union is looking to reinvigorate its base, and that's going to be an interesting one to watch.

Audience member:

Thanks Rob. In regards to the technology of the exoskeletons, where do you see that fitting in our normal hierarchy of kind of risk controls? Is it a PPE? Is it something that would supersede looking at the task itself and re-engineering that?

Robert Sobyra:

Yeah. I don't think it will necessarily re-engineer the task. I think it is just another form of PPE. I think it will be sitting alongside the hard hat in the staff room, and the vest. Yeah.

Nita Maynard:

I might jump in. Yeah. Absolutely. If we can design the job so that we don't have the lifting – and the 3D printing and the self-healing concrete and those sort of things, well that's ideal. And then as we bring in these other things that we can eliminate, we then need to manage the risk.

Interestingly Rob's talking about construction, but I'm looking at Jenny there in healthcare and thinking gosh, there's a pile of possibilities in the healthcare industry with those sort of things.

Rob, are you seeing any companies in Australia investigating these?

Robert Sobyra:



Nita Maynard:

How do we get them to…

Robert Sobyra:

Yeah. I raise it with every big company, every innovation manager in all the big construction companies I talk to. They're not really tuned into it yet. We're traditionally 10 years behind the US who are 10 years behind Japan, so give it a few decades. Yeah.

Audience member:

Rob, do you think that's because we're not encouraging the skills to actually get into this space? I mean we heard earlier that we have a lack of STEM skills coming through our schools. No doubt these things require that. What is it that Construction Skills Queensland are looking at in order to encourage these types of skills, and secondly, what do you think the government needs to be doing to encourage these types of skills?

Robert Sobyra:

So our big focus is – I'm harping on the culture a lot. But one of the big things is the mentality around construction apprenticeships and construction jobs. I hate to say it, but it is still the view that construction apprenticeships are for the kids who can't get into uni or can't do something more cerebral. So our focus is trying to shift that to tuning people into the fact that the construction worker 2.0 if you like is going to be operating in a far higher tech with leading edge technologies and will be using information processing skills much more than manual processing sort of skills. So a shift in thinking needs to happen, and it needs to happen not just in society and mums and dads who are advising their kids, but still government and other stakeholders are still wedded to that old school kind of stereotype.

Nita Maynard:

I think we're near the end of our time. If you can join with me to thank Rob. That was excellent.


Okay. You now have the opportunity if you want to move to one of the other rooms. If not, if you'd like to stay here, we have Dr Kirsten Way who'll be talking about diversity and good work design in a couple of minutes.

[End of transcript]