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.

The benefits of construction digital twins, such as improved planning and design, streamlined collaboration, and effective risk management, are transforming how projects are executed. Photo via Getty Images

Why you should consider using construction digital twin tech, according to this Houston expert

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The construction industry is no stranger to embracing technological advancements, and one of the latest breakthroughs is the advent of construction digital twin technology.

Blending the virtual and physical worlds, construction digital twins offer immense potential for enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving decision-making in construction projects.

It is a fascinating and ever-changing world of technology in construction digital twin technology and the following information explores its key components, benefits, and real-world applications in the construction sector.

What is a construction digital twin?

A construction digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical asset, process, or system that integrates real-time data from various sources to provide a holistic and dynamic representation. It encompasses a portion of the entire lifecycle of the project, potentially starting from planning and design into construction, commissioning, and data collection for ongoing maintenance.

The key components of a construction digital twin include the physical asset, sensors, data acquisition systems, connectivity infrastructure, cloud platforms, and advanced analytics. Various tools or platforms can be used at different stages of a project.

Skanska, a construction and development company, has created an internal hybrid approach combining a digital twin model with a custom analytics dashboard. The process allows for tracking production control during construction. What is used is a less-is-more approach to manual data entry into models and link to automated external data sources, which are combined and analyzed together in a separate dashboard. These color-coded models are combined with external data for schedule, cost, and man hour data for predictive analysis and production rates.

Improved planning and design

Digital twins allow design and construction professionals to simulate and optimize designs with a virtual model of the building before physically implementing them. This capability enables early detection and resolution of design flaws, reducing rework and costly delays. Adjacent building and city data can inform early design decisions. By leveraging the existing data from a digital twin, renovation projects can streamline processes, reduce risks, improve efficiency, and make informed design decisions, ultimately resulting in more successful and cost-effective renovations.

Enhanced construction processes

A construction digital twin allows stakeholders to visualize and simulate the project, analyze potential issues, optimize workflows, and make informed decisions. Key data sources include: installation, schedule, man hours, and cost. Additional real-time data from sensors embedded in physical assets can be fed into construction digital twins, enabling real-time monitoring and analysis. Project teams can enhance collaboration, improve efficiency, maintain schedule, reduce costs, and minimize risks throughout the construction process.

Effective risk management

Digital twins enable construction companies to simulate and analyze potential risks, such as structural weaknesses and environmental or safety hazards. Builders and their clients are at an advantage since they can address these risks in the virtual environment and significantly reduce the occurrence of accidents and associated liabilities.

Streamlined collaboration

Construction digital twins act as a shared platform for all stakeholders involved in a construction project, including architects, engineers, contractors, and facility managers. This flow of information fosters seamless collaboration, improves communication, and results in better decision-making through a data-driven environment. Solutions vary per stage and parties involved.

Real-world applications

Construction digital twin technology is already finding practical application in the construction industry, including locally at 1550 on The Green, Skanska’s state-of-the art, sustainable office building bringing the outdoors in.

Smart building construction

By creating a digital twin of a smart building, companies can optimize energy efficiency, HVAC systems, and space. The real-time monitoring of energy consumption and occupancy patterns combined with as-built BIM and systems data allows for predictive maintenance. Automations and AI assisted controls are also on the horizon.

Bringing it all together

Construction digital twin technology is poised to revolutionize the construction industry. By merging the virtual and physical realms, it enables construction professionals to make more informed decisions, enhance efficiency, and minimize risks.

The benefits of construction digital twins, such as improved planning and design, streamlined collaboration, and effective risk management, are transforming how projects are executed. As this technology continues to evolve, there are bound to be greater advancements in construction practices, ultimately leading to safer, smarter, and more sustainable built environments. Key data points and use cases vary per phase and stakeholder, and digital twins are a great asset throughout the project lifecycle.

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Edwin Bailey is senior preconstruction technologist at Skanska, a leading multi-national project development and construction group, in Houston.

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

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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.
The 1550 on the Green tower will anchor a new mixed-use district. Rendering courtesy of Skanska

New downtown office tower will rise in bustling Discovery Green

new to hou

A new office tower will soon loom over the popular Discovery Green as the anchor of a new downtown district. Global development and construction firm, Skanksa, announced the new building at 1550 Lamar St. and its anchor tenant on January 13. The new 28-story, 375,000-square-foot Class-A office structure is dubbed 1550 on the Green, per a Skanska statement.

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright will relocate its Houston office in 2024 and acquire naming rights upon occupancy, according to a press release.

Bound by La Branch, Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas Streets, 1550 on The Green will feature extra-wide pedestrian zones with a canopy of trees, two tenant outdoor roof terraces, and wide views of the surrounding greenery.

International design firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group led the building's design; it is the company's first foray into Texas. BIG's design promises sustainability, energy efficiency, and an "airy" office environment for tenants, a release describes.

Some 7,000 square feet of retail space will greet first-floor guests. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has been tapped to design the interior amenity spaces; those include a fitness center, rooftop event space and terrace, and community spaces.

The new 1550 on the Green tower is part of a new envisioned district that will be branded as Discovery West. The district will consist of 3.5 acres of mixed-use development boasting restaurants, retail, green space, and "world-class architecture," per a release.

Working with Central Houston Inc., Discovery Green, Bike Houston, the Kinder Foundation, as well as several brokers, Skanska and design firm of record, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, completed the master plan for Discovery West in early 2020.

Skanska has been noticeably active in the Houston office market, specifically with the development of Bank of America Tower, West Memorial Place I and II, and the future Discovery West. The company is behind the acquisition of a buzzy strip center in Montrose. Skanska also plans to multifamily to its Houston portfolio, the firm notes.

"As an organization that prides itself on building what matters to our communities, our team, made up of Houstonians, has been working alongside local stakeholders to develop a plan and a building that will transform this side of downtown Houston while still meeting the needs of the city," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA commercial development's Houston market, in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston chemist lands $2M NIH grant for cancer treatment research

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A Rice University chemist has landed a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health for his work that aims to reprogram the genetic code and explore the role certain cells play in causing diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator, associate professor of chemistry, from the NIH's Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which supports medically focused laboratories.

Xiao will use the five-year grant to develop noncanonical amino acids (ncAAs) with diverse properties to help build proteins, according to a statement from Rice. He and his team will then use the ncAAs to explore the vivo sensors for enzymes involved in posttranslational modifications (PTMs), which play a role in the development of cancers and neurological disorders. Additionally, the team will look to develop a way to detect these enzymes in living organisms in real-time rather than in a lab.

“This innovative approach could revolutionize how we understand and control cellular functions,” Xiao said in the statement.

According to Rice, these developments could have major implications for the way diseases are treated, specifically for epigenetic inhibitors that are used to treat cancer.

Xiao helped lead the charge to launch Rice's new Synthesis X Center this spring. The center, which was born out of informal meetings between Xio's lab and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, aims to improve cancer outcomes by turning fundamental research into clinical applications.

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.”

Houston neighbor ranks as one of America's most livable small cities

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Some Houston suburbs stick out from the rest thanks to their affluent residents, and now Missouri City is getting time in the spotlight, thanks to its new ranking as the No. 77 most livable small city in the country.

The tiny but mighty Houston neighbor, located less than 20 miles southwest of Houston, was among six Texas cities that earned a top-100 ranking in SmartAsset's 2024 " Most Livable Small Cities" report. It compared 281 U.S. cities with populations between 65,000 and 100,000 residents across eight metrics, such as a resident's housing costs as a percentage of household income, the city's average commute times, and the proportions of entertainment, food service, and healthcare establishments.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Missouri City has an estimated population of over 76,000 residents, whose median household income comes out to $97,211. SmartAsset calculated that a Missouri City household's annual housing costs only take up 19.4 percent of that household's income. Additionally, the study found only six percent of the town's population live below the poverty level.

Here's how Missouri City performed in two other metrics in the study:

  • 1.4 percent – The proportion of arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses as a percentage of all businesses
  • 29.9 minutes – Worker's average commute time

But income and housing aren't the only things that make Missouri City one of the most livable small cities in Texas. Residents benefit from its proximity from central Houston, but the town mainly prides itself on its spacious park system, playgrounds, and other recreational activities.

Missouri City, Texas

Missouri City residents have plenty of parkland to enjoy. www.missouricitytx.gov

The Missouri City Parks and Recreation Departmen meticulously maintains 21 parks spanning just over 515 acres of land, an additional 500 acres of undeveloped parkland, and 14.4 miles of trails throughout the town, according to the city's website."Small cities may offer cost benefits for residents looking to stretch their income while enjoying a comfortable – and more spacious – lifestyle," the report's author wrote. "While livability is a subjective concept that may take on different definitions for different people, some elements of a community can come close to being universally beneficial."

Missouri City is also home to Fort Bend Town Square, a massive mixed-use development at the intersection of TX 6 and the Fort Bend Parkway. It offers apartments, shopping, and restaurants, including a rumored location of Trill Burgers.

Other Houston-area cities that earned a spot in the report include

Spring (No. 227) and Baytown (No. 254).The five remaining Texas cities that were among the top 100 most livable small cities in the U.S. include Flower Mound (No. 29), Leander (No. 60), Mansfield (No. 69), Pflugerville (No. 78), and Cedar Park (No. 85).

The top 10 most livable small cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – Troy, Michigan
  • No. 2 – Rochester Hills, Michigan
  • No. 3 – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
  • No. 4 – Franklin, Tennessee
  • No. 5 – Redmond, Washington
  • No. 6 – Appleton, Wisconsin
  • No. 7 – Apex, North Carolina
  • No. 8 – Plymouth, Minnesota
  • No. 9 – Livonia, Michigan
  • No. 10 – Oshkosh, Wisconsin

The report examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2022 1-year American Community Survey and the 2021 County Business Patterns Survey to determine its rankings.The report and its methodology can be found on

smartasset.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.