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November 5, 2004

Roundtable Explores Education and Communication Barriers to Innovation

Washington, D.C. -- Does education, training and communication pose a barrier to innovation in the homebuilding industry? A panel of industry representatives explored this question during a two-day roundtable sponsored by PATH and answered with a resounding, "Yes."

Photo: Presentation to Roundtable.The expert panel included a builder, specification writer, trade/union representative, learning specialist, academic, and evaluation and codes representative. The final of three roundtables convened to examine barrier removal, the group heard presentations on three emerging innovative technologies and offered insights into the points in the innovation pipeline that require improved education, training and communication. Education was generally defined as gaining the ability to think, while training is gaining the ability to do; communication was considered any information exchange, from marketing and sales to technology transfer.

Several hypotheses related to the topic were considered and accepted, including:

  1. There is limited time to educate most key decision-makers in the construction industry.

  • When communicating with a decision-maker, one must think through the process from beginning to end and successfully address major concerns.
  1. Production builders, developers, large-scale owners, suppliers, sub-contractors and code officials are the key decision-makers in adopting innovation. Any successful innovation must have educational materials sufficient to convince decision-makers.

  • An innovation must solve an existing problem; it should demonstrate cost and/or time savings. Code officials will be more interested in safety.
  1. Builders of all sizes are now using subcontractors extensively. Diversity in languages spoken can pose a barrier to change in conventional processes, especially if relying on a single translator.

  2. There is a lack of product and installation materials in languages other than English.

  • Translated materials should particularly be focused on basic installation and safety issues.
  1. Existing education channels (VoTech, secondary school, on-the-job training, university programs) are insufficient to meet construction industry basic needs, let alone advanced needs of introducing innovation.

  2. Photo: Industry presentation at Roundtable.In the construction industry, successful education still depends on face-to-face contact. However, this is sensitive to a generational shift. Younger generations are more likely to rely on Internet communication and not require in-person contact for acceptance of innovation.

  3. Because successful education addresses all of the above issues, big and sophisticated innovations have an advantage in getting innovation adopted.

  • Larger companies may be more inclined toward incremental innovation; smaller companies more likely to pioneer systems innovations.
  • Partnerships (especially association support) can significantly influence the advancement of innovation.
  1. The current housing boom is not conducive to training on innovation or even communication with builders. The best time to advance innovation may be during a housing recession, when builders are seeking a competitive distinction.

  • However, the housing boom has also sparked an increase in education to consumers (e.g. television, journals) and at universities.

Detailed results from the roundtable will be posted on PATH's Web site in December. PATH is implementing a variety of initiatives to combat the bigger institutional barriers to change.

Content updated on 3/8/2005

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