Maria Zheleva, BCC
„The digital revolution we have recently witnessed has significantly changed the economy of each and every country and the way we think. It also influences the social dialogue in the construction sector by changing the rules of the game.” This was part of the opening speech of Lyubomir Kachamakov, MSc Eng., Vice President of the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) and Chairman of the BCC – Sofia, at the Third virtual capacity building event under the SuSodCo project Digitalization and digital skills in the framework of social dialogue. The organizers of the forum, which brought together representatives of employers and of trade unions from Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary, were the Bulgarian Construction Chamber (BCC) and the Federation Construction, Industry and Water Supply – Podkrepa (FCIWS – Podkrepa (Support)).
Lyubomir Kachamakov, MSc Eng., emphasized that social media connects employers and employees much faster and this allows for new negotiating practices. According to him, the innovations implemented as a result of the digitalization of the Construction sector help to optimize construction prices, as well as to minimize severe accidents on building sites. „The industry is implementing digital technologies at a fast pace, thus buildings and infrastructure are becoming a kind of data source during their functioning. We are witnessing a new age in the industry, which provides a variety of opportunities for both employers and workers“, said Lyubomir Kachamakov. He pointed out that
the digital revolution brings new challenges to the construction sector,
namely, a change involving different thinking, motivation and uncompromising action. „The requirement for BIM certification of construction companies is increasingly appearing in tender documents in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, however, we are lagging behind this trend, but sooner or later it will be imposed by European legislation“. Lyubomir Kachamakov pointed out that this requires serious attention and efforts towards creating the necessary digital construction environment in order to be competitive on international scale. He said that FIEC also works hard on this important topic and encourages its members in their attempt to digitalize the construction industry, which is very labor-intensive and still uses traditional building methods. In conclusion, he expressed his support for the ongoing event, which raises awareness and the concern among the social partners about the forthcoming changes. Lyubomir Kachamakov added that he hopes to see more seminars dedicated to this important topic in future.
Then the floor was given to Ioannis Parteniotis, MSc Eng., Chairman of FCIWS – Podkrepa and Vice President of Labour Confederation Podkrepa, who stated categorically that
The long-term cooperation between FCIWS – Podkrepa and BCC is a benchmark for dialogue
among all social partners in Bulgaria.
„The fourth industrial revolution we are witnessing today, namely digitalisation, inevitably has a direct effect on construction industry. This direct effect is due to the changes taking place in the production of building materials and in the construction process itself“, said Ioannis Partheniotis. He drew attention to the vocational training of personnel for the construction industry, which should take advantage of new methods in order to keep pace with the changing environment. The Chairman of FCIWS – Podkrepa expressed confidence in the usefulness of the presentations prepared for the seminar, which, he said, would contribute to broadening the worldview of the social partners and shaping future policies in the construction sector.
The first panel of the event focused on digitalization from the perspective of European social dialogue and its impact on the following aspects – employment, wages, vocational education and training, working conditions and conflicts. It included a presentation by Vasil Kirov, associate professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, member of the expert group at the European Commission studying the effect of digital transformation on European markets and co-author of the book The Political Consequences of Virtual Labor. He noted that in the last few years there have been pessimistic scenarios that robots will soon take over jobs, and emphasized that this trend also has a different effect – as a result of digitalization, atypical activities and new professions are emerging that transform the labor market. In his opinion digital skills are becoming increasingly important, but they go together with the need to learn good social skills. „This is a trend that we must take into account, because technology can also be socially adapted. This is our understanding as scientists, and the social partners play a very important role in the process of digitization of the construction sector. We are all learning and we need to help our employees improve their skills in the context of digital transformation,“ Kirov said.
What are the main social changes caused by the introduction of new technologies?
According to Kirov, as a result of the digital transformation, some of the existing skills have become obsolete for a significant number of sectors and professions. „Many new professions will appear on the labour market as a result of digitalization. They require certain reactions and actions on behalf of the social partners – foreseeing changes and analyzing their impact, developing policies for adapting professional skills to new technologies, developing skills for emerging professions, etc.“, Vasil Kirov is categorical. He added that many professions will not disappear suddenly, but will evolve. Some will be complemented by artificial intelligence, automation and other innovations.
Kirov explained that digitalization also concerns other social and economic processes, such as
The green economy and other related European policies, which also transform markets.
Job destruction is a negative trend of digitalization, which is inevitable, but its effect on construction has been assessed as insignificant. The shifting of professions represents the impact of digitalization on the need to acquire new skills and change the way we work. Kirov illustrated this trend with the emergence of platforms that already have a tangible effect on the workforce, providing opportunities for professional development, telecommuting, tracking work efficiency. According to him, the construction sector has started to gradually adopt the processes of digitalization – the share of BIM technologies among construction companies in Western Europe is growing, buildings are becoming „smarter“, and research into the use of artificial intelligence in the construction sector is becoming more intensive. „These changes related to digitalization are tangible and complex, but it is still unclear how far their time horizon extends. We know that there will be autonomous cars in the future, but we do not know when exactly. Digitalization introduces many new tools to us, for example, we have started discussing classic issues such as wages and working hours in a whole new way. It is important to emphasize, however that
technological change must be accompanied by appropriate regulations,
which will support both the digital transformation and the work of the social partners „, said in conclusion Vasil Kirov.
Plamena Partheniotis and Yordan Yordanov, representatives of FCIWS – Podkrepa, further extended the discussion, presenting the impact of digitalization on the workforce and wages in construction. „All studies show that the impact of this ‘revolution’ will be different for the different sectors, and the new jobs will take different forms,“ explained Plamena Partheniotis. According to her, digitalization will certainly create a need for new jobs in the construction sector. According to her, robotics in the building industry would lead to the use of devices that perform repetitive processes, such as lifting heavy objects and placing them at the exact coordinates. These robots can contribute to safer and faster construction, reduce costs and at the same time give people with disabilities a chance.
“ In the course of the digitalization process in the construction industry, training is essential
due to the need to provide innovative career approaches in order to understand the strengths of both the old and the new way of working”, Partheniotis concluded.
„Digitalization is a process that aims at optimizing costs and processes in construction, at increasing the efficiency of employees, at creating a better environment for both communication and corporate culture,“ said Yordan Yordanov. He presented data from the National Statistical Institute for the period 2016 – 2018, according to which the share of labor costs in the construction sector in Bulgaria was about 10% of the total costs for construction and installation works. „It is clear that undeclared labour exists both in the west of Europe and in Bulgaria, and in our country, it may amount to 20-30%“, Yordanov explained. He stressed that labor costs are not very high and digitalization could not significantly affect them. Yordan Yordanov drew attention to the long-term strategy of BCC for digitalization of the construction industry by 2050, which focuses on important issues, namely – reducing production costs, efficient use of resources and improving waste management, quality of the final construction product , „green“ and sustainable investments and last but not least – improving professional qualification. Speaking about the digital transformation in the construction sector, Yordanov said that it would replace low- and medium-skilled staff, but there is no way to replace highly qualified employees. „Construction sites will become increasingly digitalized with the introduction of 3D printers, BIM technologies and drones,“ Yordanov explained. He said that the development of artificial intelligence and robotics in any industry raises fears that many people will lose their jobs replaced by smarter algorithms or robots, but in the construction industry these technologies are in demand due to staff shortages and this suggests higher wages in the sector. Yordanov summed up that the digitalization of the sector should include improvement and retraining of workers, retention of highly qualified employees, attracting new staff and increasing the salaries of employees. „Undoubtedly, with the development of technology, the construction industry will experience a revolution. If someone wants to develop in this sector, he can no longer afford to ignore the opportunities of digital transformation“, said Yordanov.
Vanya Tividosheva from the Vocational Education and Training Directorate at the Ministry of Education and Science, continued the topic of professional qualification by presenting specific examples of the current impact of digitalization. She cited the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training CEDEFOP, according to which „digital skills are related to information processing, communication, content creation, security and problem solving“. Tividosheva pointed out that the state of emergency caused by COVID-19 has accelerated the efforts to digitize learning content and provide learning in an electronic environment.
The topic of the influence of Building Information Modeling (BIM) on working conditions was presented by Vasil Tanev, MSc Eng., part-time lecturer at University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia. „BIM is a process related to the exchange of data between all parties related to the construction process, which has a significant impact on the working conditions during the design, project implementation and operation of buildings. The parameters of the model are the key to success in future construction“, said Vasil Tanev. He drew attention to Ordinance No2, which sets out the minimum requirements for safe working conditions, and emphasized the fact that the construction sector is a domain of increased risk of accidents at work. Vasil Tanev classified the threats and hazzards into direct and indirect, explaining that it is BIM that could prevent the indirect ones, such as inhalation of asbestos fibers, getting in contact with hazardous substances, electric shock.
The last presentation in the first panel of the seminar was the one of Mihail Mihailov, Deputy Director of the National Institute for Reconciliation and Arbitration (NICA). It dealt with the conflicts in the context of digitalization. „With the onset of the changes caused by digitalization, conflicts form new dimensions“, Mihailov said. He drew attention to the conflicts in the construction sector, dividing them into classical – regarding working conditions, remuneration, and non-classical in the context of digitalization – regarding the assignment of tasks, assessment and evaluation, allocation of equipment and resources, job selection. „Digitalization will lead to a new type of conflict and a new type of understanding of the attitude of the parties in the dialogue,“ he concluded.
The second panel of the seminar was dedicated to training in digital skills applicable in social dialogue The training covered the following topics: effective dissemination of social dialogue content and appropriate distribution channels (websites, social networks, media and other platforms), digital marketing, management of social networks and content writing tips for various communication channels. On the second day of the event, participants were divided into three international virtual groups to practice their newly acquired skills in writing content for different communication channels and using digital tools for information dissemination.
The fourth and final capacity building event of the SuSodCo project will take place in November this year, and the hopes are that this time the partners will meet live.
Tsvetelina Ivanova, MSc Eng., President of the Federation of Independent Construction Trade Unions (FICTU):
With the advent of digitalization, opportunities will open up for employees’ retraining
The event organized within the SuSodCo project brought together representatives of employers and trade unions from Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary. The main goal of the forum was to put on the agenda the topic of digitalization in the context of social dialogue and demonstrate how far it has progressed in the construction sector. My personal opinion is that the industry will change in 10 years. I believe that this two-days’ forum happens at the right time and allows the social partners to exchange knowledge and look for opportunities to address the challenges ahead.
The digitalization of the sector is forthcoming and the its benefits should be utilized; among them I can point out the opening opportunity for better control of construction sites. It will be possible to prevent future accidents. Our industry is one of the most hazardous ones and accidents occur rather often, therefore we must look for ways to reverse this trend.
It is also important to know that with the advent of digitalization and new technologies, opportunities will open for retraining of personnel in the construction sector and for the creation of new jobs. For this reason, I would like to share that the Federation of Independent Construction Trade Unions has been working on two projects aimed at developing social dialogue.
I am happy to see that Stroitel newspaper is also involved in the SuSodCo project. This means that the newspaper covers the latest news. Stroitel is among the highest quality specialized media that exist. I read it every week since it provides extremely useful and accurate information. The articles are professionally written and the people interviewed are very interesting. I am grateful that it is on the media market because it is a publication worth its existence.
Tsvetelina Bikarska, Deputy Chairman of the Federation of Independent Construction Trade Unions:
Our role as partners is to help the smooth transition from traditional to „smart“ construction
The SuSodCo project gives us the opportunity to improve social engagement and to talk and look for the best possible solutions on current European topics related to digitalization and digital skills. The representatives of the Bulgarian Construction Chamber did a great job with the moderation of the forum. Our Federation is grateful to have been invited for participation. We discussed in depth the characteristics of a digitalized construction sector, as well as how digitalization affects the employment and wages of construction workers.
Our role as project partners is to help the smooth transition from traditional to „smart“ construction. If we do not provide in advance the potentially possible important solutions to respond to the changing labor market, the market will do it for us and it will not be good for construction companies and workers. Maybe together we need to find an answer to what the needs of the industry are. I am glad that we are unanimous with all the project partners, that we co-operate well and achieve good results.