Construction and Engineering

October 28th, 2022

Revolutionising T&T’s Construction Sector

By Sheldon Waithe

Construction article img
SO web Construction - George Laquis

George A. Laquis II
Managing Director
Flags-TC International

In a post-pandemic environment, the rapid rise of new technologies, together with heightened awareness and increased commitment to implement sustainable programmes, have redefined most industries. While this has created significant excitement about the future of Trinidad and Tobago’s construction sector, it is tapered with the reality of being able to keep pace with the new global trends.

Fabricating the future

Over the past two decades, Flags-TC International has been involved in major building projects, including the construction of supermarkets, banks, warehouses, and apartment complexes, giving Managing Director, George Laquis II, an informed perspective of the market. Looking to the immediate future, he cites, “Sustainable green construction, infrastructure development, pre-fabrication and modular construction, smart cities and disaster-resilient infrastructure are the key trends shaping the future of the construction sector in T&T.” As many of these trends are in their infancy, investment is needed to achieve the required standards before this transition can occur. The limited availability of workers – for a sector heavily dependent upon its physical workforce – is one area of concern as construction moves forward. Laquis offered this insight and possible solutions, “We have a shortage of skilled labour in the sector, and this is affecting both quality and productivity. We need to develop more innovative systems and processes, depending less on manual labour. Reducing the labour input on a project will also alleviate time constraints. One example of this is the use of pre-fabrication and modular construction.”

Laquis explained, “Pre-fabrication is a component assembly-based form of building, a global trend that we need to adopt more in Trinidad and Tobago. Currently, it is being done on a small scale. However, pre-fabrication will help solve the labour shortages and provide many advantages. These include speed and efficiency, cost savings, improved quality control, flexibility, customisation and reduced environmental impact. There will also be minimised disruption and site disturbances as well as enhanced safety.”

Driving automation and smart cities

Two major trends making forays in the global construction sector are increased automation and the development of smart cities. While Laquis is confident that T&T will adopt these trends in the future, budgetary constraints will impact that timeline.

“Automation of the local sector is currently in the early stages due to the high costs involved. However, once implemented, it promises numerous advantages. It will offer increased productivity, cost savings and improved quality and precision in both design and construction. The impact on budgets and timelines will be substantial, as automation enhances efficiency, shortens project durations, and reduces labour needs. It’s important to note that automation will only partially replace the labour requirements in construction jobs. However, it will certainly shift the necessary skill sets.”

According to Laquis, the concept of ‘smart buildings’ and an expansion to ‘smart cities’ remains further along in T&T’s future. “While there has been notable progress in the adoption of ‘smart building’ technologies, particularly in the residential sector where lower costs have made products more accessible, achieving the concept of ‘smart cities’ is still a distant goal.” He elaborates, “It is important to address the fundamental infrastructure needs which are currently lacking, especially compared to more developed urban areas in the First World. There is still a considerable journey ahead of us to establish the foundation for ‘smart cities’ to become a reality.”

Driving automation and smart cities

The construction sector, one of the pillars of the economy, also has a crucial role in alleviating the continuing enervating effects of climate change. The sector must act immediately to help create the path to a sustainable future for our twin islands.

Laquis’ view is that more needs to be done to create the necessary culture shift, “Local architects and developers have shown increasing interest in ‘green building’ practices, but this movement has yet to mature fully. While green certification programmes exist, the costs associated with implementing environmentally friendly construction methods are considerably higher.” It is not only about the financial investment, Laquis concludes, “Additionally, the current lack of sufficient government incentives also makes it challenging for professionals to actively pursue ‘green building’ initiatives.”


Innovation in Engineering

By Sheldon Waithe

SO web Construction - Trevor Townsend

Eng. Dr. Trevor Townsend
President, Association of Professional
Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT)

The world of engineering is constantly evolving. Digital transformation is shaping the landscape of the future of the engineering industry. The growth of renewable energy coupled with automation is set to impact timelines and budgets positively.

What are the key trends shaping the future of engineering in T&T?

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data management, cloud-based storage, sustainable development, and sustainable energy are the common global trends across the four engineering divisions: civil, mechanical, chemical, and electrical. These are also applicable to T&T.

What are the benefits of these trends for the local industry?

They offer opportunities for improved planning and coordination, enhanced data collection and analysis and make project management more efficient. Many firms in Trinidad and Tobago have been taking advantage of these technologies. It allows us to seamlessly export our services regionally and internationally without having a physical presence. With respect to sustainability, the trend towards solar and wind energy is progressing steadily in T&T. It will become even more important in the future.

How will budgets and timelines be impacted?

Initially, greater spending is needed because these tools require higher capital investment. It helps if you balance that investment against project life-cycle costs. These trends can positively impact budgets and timelines once there is proper management and implementation. Depending on their capitalisation and cash flow level, firms will employ new technology as their budgets permit.

How are local engineering companies responding to these trends?

There is some uptake. The needs and wants of stakeholders and customers often drive implementation. Regulatory agencies also play a role in influencing strategy. We are a small island state; therefore, we must ‘pick and choose’ the technology and solutions best suited to our unique circumstances.

Is there a required shift in the local engineering industry to use these transformative trends?

Locally we require our engineering programmes to be internationally accredited. That means that what we teach is on par with global standards. We keep up to date with the engineering fundamentals and ensure that the public’s concerns and interests are protected. Ethical issues may arise as we move towards greater use of AI and robotics. One of the key things required to stay abreast of global engineering trends is investment in continuous professional development. That is something that the industry has not been doing enough of in the past; amendments to the Engineering Profession Act will fast-track that.