Proactively engaging in advocating for opportunities within the industry across all job levels is essential to guaranteeing a consistent influx of skilled workers, meeting the growing construction demands of both our state and nation. Photo via Getty Images

The construction industry in the U.S. is experiencing a substantial demand for skilled workers. There are over 438,000 job openings, and this demand is projected to increase, aiming to attract over half a million workers to meet the upcoming labor needs.

The urgency is heightened as a significant percentage — more than 40 percent — of the existing workforce is expected to retire within the next eight years.

To top it off, Texas is the fastest growing state with more than nine million new residents between 2000 and 2022. With a growing population, the requirement for robust infrastructure, encompassing various sectors like transportation, health care, education, and residential development, continues to escalate. Encouraging careers in construction among the younger generation becomes vital for everyone, no matter their industry, to meet these demands and bridge the deepening skills gap.

Viable Career Path: Attracting the next wave of construction talent involves dispelling misconceptions about the industry. Many young individuals might not realize the breadth of opportunities available in construction beyond traditional manual labor. I personally gained interest and experience in the industry at a young age before navigating through a few IT careers, and then landed back in construction and worked my way up, which exemplifies the diverse career paths within the industry.

Education and training play a pivotal role in molding the future workforce. Highlighting that formal education isn't the sole path to success, apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs emerge as excellent alternatives, providing hands-on learning experiences while earning a wage. Collaborating with educational institutions and organizations at an early stage can introduce students to the industry's diverse career avenues.

As with every industry, diversity encourages innovation. Business leaders who intentionally recruit from underrepresented groups, including women and minorities, within the industry will reap countless benefits.

Innovative Technologies: Showcasing the innovative and technological aspects of the industry, such as precision tools, drone technology, AI, and virtual reality, underscores the creative and forward-thinking nature of construction careers. The construction industry continues to evolve and become technologically advanced. The need for cutting-edge individuals who possess construction skills with an understanding of technical innovations will transform the industry.

Stability: Highlighting the industry’s stability, competitive compensation, and the promising opportunities for career growth can further attract potential candidates. Advocating for stringent safety measures and emphasizing the importance of sustainable building practices introduces an added layer of social responsibility, capturing the attention of those committed to ensuring a secure work environment.

Ultimately, the collective efforts of the current workforce and today’s business leaders are pivotal in addressing the imminent skills gap that stands to affect us all. Proactively engaging in advocating for opportunities within the industry across all job levels is essential to guaranteeing a consistent influx of skilled workers, meeting the growing construction demands of both our state and nation.

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Randy Pitre serves as the vice president of operations for Skanska USA Building’s North Texas and Houston building operations.

A new construction-focused drone services company has landed in Texas. Photo courtesy of Helios Visions

Chicago drone company expands in Texas, opens office in Houston

taking flight

A Chicago-based company that provides drone-based infrastructure inspection services has announced new offices in Texas — including Houston.

Helios Visions announced its expansion into Texas earlier this month, and named three new offices in Houston, Austin, and Dallas/Fort Worth. The company specializes in collecting automated and repeatable aerial data via drone technology within the architectural design, engineering design and construction industries.

"Houston, Austin, and Dallas/Fort Worth are large markets, and it is a natural next step of our continuing expansion strategy," says Ted Parisot, co-founder of Helios Visions, in a news release. "Moving into the Texas market allows us to best serve the needs of both existing and new clients in architecture, engineering, construction, and commercial real estate.

"Coupled with the urgent need for infrastructure inspections across the United States, it was the right time to expand our drone services in Texas," he continues. "This also represents the continued growth and value provided by the commercial drone services industry as a whole."

Helios Visions, founded in 2015, will offer its Texas projects drone services in the following areas:

  • Infrastructure Inspection (bridges, overpasses, viaducts, etc.)
  • Building façade inspection
  • Construction progress documentation
  • Commercial real estate

"Given its central location and the high population growth trajectory, we knew that expanding into the Texas market would allow us to best serve the needs of both existing and new clients," says Calvin Gin, co-founder of Helios Visions, in the release. "I am often traveling across Texas for other projects including Luby's Restaurants and Charming Studios, so it is a natural progression for Helios Visions to expand our drone service offerings here."

Satterfield & Pontikes Construction has launched Prolégo to provide predictive analytics to its clients. Photo via Getty Images

Houston construction business launches analytics tool to predict building outcomes

construction tech

Houston-based Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, a provider of preconstruction, construction and consulting services, has launched an analytics-driven platform for project and program management.

The new platform, Prolégo, relies on predictive analytics to help ensure resources and expectations are in sync throughout three key phases of a construction project: consultation, planning, and management.

“By applying proprietary technology to monitor project progress and track changes tied to real-time cost data, the company offers a means to accurately predict outcomes so they can be planned for and measured accurately,” Satterfield & Pontikes explains in a news release.

Among the components of a project that Prolégo measures and tracks are materials, labor, and productivity.

George Pontikes, founder, chairman, and CEO of Satterfield & Pontikes, says Prolégo can serve as a “client’s advocate” for a single project or an entire building program. Clients of Prolégo include the Houston Airport System, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Klein ISD, and Spring Branch ISD.

Russ Wallace, former chief facilities officer for facilities planning and construction at the Texas A&M University System, leads Prolégo as senior program executive.

“As the building process has become increasingly sophisticated, there are an incredible number of puzzle pieces that have to fit together seamlessly,” Wallace says. “What we know is that when we monitor work in place versus plan in place, we can address any possible issues early in the process and work more efficiently via quantifiable data. If we can predict outcomes, we can plan for them.”

Other members of the Prolégo leadership team are John Marshall, senior vice president for education; Matt Daniel, corporate vice president; Matt Russel, vice president and program manager; Mark Dinius, director of technology; and Amanda Graham, director of business development.

Satterfield & Pontikes, founded in 1989, provides services for several sectors, such as including K-12 education, transportation, healthcare, government, distribution, and manufacturing.

Aside from its Houston headquarters, the firm has offices in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. In addition to Prolégo, its subsidiaries are Rollcon, Westway Construction, Greco Structures, Pontikes Development, Rocket Concrete Pumping, and Eagle Contracting. Satterfield & Pontikes purchased Keller-based Eagle Contracting late last year.

In 2021, Engineering News-Record listed Satterfield & Pontikes at No. 148 among the country’s 400 largest U.S.-based general contractors as measured by revenue from construction contracting.

The tech solution provides construction customers with an automated layout-as-a-service tool. Image via rugged-robotics.com

Houston-based construction robotics startup raises $9.4M series A

money moves

A Houston robotics startup working in the commercial construction field has closed its latest round of funding.

Rugged Robotics Inc. announced last week that it's raised $9.4 million in its series A round led by BOLD Capital Partners and Brick & Mortar Ventures. Riot Ventures, Morpheus, and Embark — all investors in the company's 2019 seed round — also contributed, as did Consigli Construction Company and Suffolk Technologies. To date, Rugged Robotics has raised $12 million.

“We are thrilled to be part of the Rugged team,” says Maxx Bricklin, partner at BOLD Capital, in a news release. “We looked at a number of companies in the space and became convinced that the Rugged team, technology and partner ecosystem would allow Rugged to dominate and capitalize on this significant and disruptive market opportunity.”

The fresh capital, the company shares in the release, will go toward scaling operations, expanding offerings, and continuing research and development.

Founded in 2018 by construction industry veteran Derrick Morse and former NASA engineer Logan Farrell, Rugged Robotics's Mark 1 product is modernizing the construction industry. The robot addresses challenges of field layout with a “layout Roomba” that marks architectural and engineering designs directly onto unfinished concrete floors. The company's early customers include Consigli Construction Co, Suffolk Construction, and Brasfield & Gorrie.

“When Derrick and Logan first visited our office, they clearly understood the problems we face and immediately separated themselves from typical technology startups. Their focus on solving real-world problems resonates with us, and we jumped at the opportunity to engage with them,” says Mike Haseltine, vice president and head of operations at Consigli. “Seeing their robots, their layouts, and their impact is inspiring. They’ve built something that’s going to change how we build buildings.”

While the concept of an autonomous layout solution isn't new, the Rugged Robotics approach is different from the industry standard in that it has a self-contained system that "enables multi-rover deployments, one-time set-ups that span an entire floor, and print zones that extend around and behind obstructions like columns, stairs, and elevators," per the news release. The company offers its customers the technology as a layout-as-a-service model.

“We’re building better,” says Morse, who serves as CEO, in the release. “We set out to modernize the construction industry, and to build practical solutions that solve the pain points contractors struggle with every day. We believe that layout is the ideal starting point. Layout is the beachhead for construction automation. It sits at the intersection of the digital and physical world, solves a huge problem, and unlocks the ability to deploy robotics onto job sites in a very meaningful way.”

The company is growing its team, which has included the onboarding of Mason Markee, the former director of mechanical engineering of Auris Health, who joined Rugged Robotics as vice president of engineering. Prior to Auris, Markee spent eight years at NASA as a robotics engineer.

“Mason has 15 years of years of robotics experience," says Farrell, the company's CTO, in the release. "I knew him at NASA, and we’re delighted to have him onboard at Rugged. He brings tremendous experience to the table. He is familiar with the entire product life cycle, from concept generation to final commercial production. He’s seen scale, and we’re excited by the rapid growth his technical expertise and leadership experience enables.”

The company has five engineering positions listed on LinkedIn.

Houston-based Buildforce is developing a technology to better connect contractors and the trade professionals they employ. Photo via Getty Images

Houston construction staffing startup emerges from stealth with $1.5 pre-seed funding

building tech

A Houston startup has been quietly working on a tech solution for construction staffing and has now emerged from stealth mode to announce a recent funding round as well as an acquisition.

Launched in July of 2020, Buildforce is a construction staffing app that aims to more efficiently connect contractors to skilled workers in trades ranging from electrical, mechanical, and plumbing to flooring, concrete, painting, and more, according to a news release. The company raised a $1.5 million pre-seed round led by Houston-based Mercury Fund.

Co-founder and CEO Moody Heard, who previously served as senior investment analyst at Mercury, says the tech product — the Buildforce Contractor App — will have a big impact on Texas, which is experiencing growing construction volume across the state.

Moody Heard is the co-founder and CEO of Buildforce. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

"Our key insight is that providing a superior service to construction employers starts with providing a superior experience for tradesmen and women," Heard says in the release. "Talent is the greatest finite resource in construction in Texas. In order to deliver talent to our contractor partners, we've created a job placement experience that is simple, friendly, and transparent. That's something people in the construction trades aren't used to, and has helped us grow incredibly quickly over the past several months."

In addition to emerging from stealth and raising its first funds, Buildforce has announced the acquisition of a Houston-based construction staffing business, TRIO Talent.This deal allows Buildforce to tap into TRIO's high school pre-apprenticeship programs that's among the largest in the state.

Buildforce is currently working out of a 2,500-square-foot office in Greenway Plaza, and has plans to expand later this year in both Houston and Austin, per the release. The startup's team includes members who previously worked at digital labor marketplace companies like Uber and Favor.

"Buildforce really has two serious advantages," says Vu Brown, co-founder and COO, in the release. "The first is exclusive access to newly trained skilled trades talent across the state of Texas. The second is our team. We are a unique combination of digital labor marketplace and construction experts, with decades of combined learnings from the top industry players in those two categories."

Buildforce is an app that can connect contractors with construction experts. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

As Houston grows, the city needs more and more construction. However, with this growth comes the need to build responsibly — and that's where technology can come in. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert calls for more innovation within the construction industry

guest column

The construction industry has the opportunity to drive positive change through the development and deployment of technologies influencing the way we work and live, ultimately affecting our environment, communities, and personal well-being.

Carbon emissions come from a handful of broad categories, including transportation, electricity production, and industry. According to the International Energy Agency, more than a third of all global greenhouse gases come from the building and construction industry. Concrete production alone contributes an estimated 8 percent of global carbon emissions. As a result, in Houston, we are vulnerable to longer, hotter summers, stronger hurricanes and once-in-a-lifetime storms. But I'm optimistic that there is opportunity for our industry to come together and reverse the current trajectory.

We must continue developing and deploying new technologies and best practices to reduce emissions. By using data to understand the environmental implications of the materials we use, we can make adjustments that are beneficial to both our clients and the environment.

One such example is the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, known as "EC3." Skanska USA developed the open-source, freely available software in collaboration with Microsoft and C Change Labs. The tool democratizes important building data and allows the construction industry to calculate and evaluate carbon emissions associated with various building materials.

Now hosted and managed by Building Transparency, a new 501c3 organization, the EC3 tool was incubated at the Carbon Leadership Forum with input from nearly 50 industry partners. Like the tech industry, we should promote knowledge-sharing among general contractors to drive innovation and sustainability.

The demand for this tool is growing because it's not only the right thing to do, but it also benefits our communities and drives stakeholder value. Now more than ever, clients want to be responsible global citizens and they know that adopting green building practices is attractive to their prospective workforce and their clients and customers.

In Houston, the current population of 7.1 million will double to 14.2 million by 2050. With that population growth comes the need for more housing, more office space and more transportation options. Last April, Houston enacted a climate action plan that sets goals aligned with those from the Paris accord — carbon neutrality by 2050.

Similar local plans have been and are continually being developed all around the world, a necessary step to address a global issue that impacts all of us. Like others, the Houston plan contemplates how to reduce carbon emissions that are the result of energy consumption which accounts for about half of Houston's greenhouse-gas emissions.

Innovations in energy efficiency can help drive down energy consumption. As conscientious global and local citizens, we also have to consider the emissions that are created by the raw materials that are used in construction. That's become a much easier process with the EC3 tool. Now architects, engineers and others involved in the design process can make data-driven decisions that can have significant impact on the carbon footprint — as much as a 30 percent reduction in embodied carbon — of a structure that are mostly cost-neutral.

Embodied-carbon reductions can be made simply by smartly using data. The EC3 tool is one of many steps toward innovative building practices and complements the important ongoing work done by the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification.

Opting for sustainable building practices is good for the environment, but it's also good for the people who will spend time in these spaces. Green building reduces the use of toxic materials, and studies have found that sustainable structures, such as schools, health care facilities and airports, have positive impacts on cognitive ability, seasonal affective disorder and overall happiness.

We are also seeing an influx of client requests for sustainable and healthy building upgrades, especially since the onset of COVID-19. These upgrades are changing the way we live and work while supporting infection control, from touchless elevators to advanced air filtration systems.

For example, innovation has been instrumental throughout the pandemic for the aviation industry's safe operation. Increased biometrics across airport touchpoints, flexible passenger gathering areas that include modifications to passenger hold rooms and departure lounges, and environmental monitoring and wayfinding technology to alert passengers of airport congestion points are a few new concepts airports are incorporating into builds to keep travelers healthy now and in a post-COVID world.

Overall, the construction sector will play an essential role in how we approach expanding the built environment over the next 30 years. Using data and striving for continual innovation, we have a great opportunity to come together as an industry and create real change that will benefit our collective lives and those of generations to come.

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Dennis Yung is executive vice president and general manager at
Skanska, one of the world's leading project development and construction groups, where he oversees building operations for Houston and North Texas.
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Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

new to HOU

Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.

Houston physicist scores $15.5M grant for high-energy nuclear physics research

FUTURE OF PHYSICS

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

The Rice team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas. Photo via Rice.edu

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.