Ditch Witch General Manager Comments on the State of the Industry

Smith stresses that workforce challenges will continue into 2024.

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith
Ditch Witch

Kevin Smith, general manager, Ditch Witch, took the time to share his outlook on 2024 and to look back on last year for the State of the Industry Report. Among factors challenging the industry, Smith feels that workforce shortages will continue into 2024. He also stated that connected jobsites will experience innovation next year.

What was the construction industry’s biggest challenge in 2023?

The biggest challenge our industry has faced in 2023 and continues to face is workforce shortage. There continues to be a high demand for work—especially in the fiber installation industry – but the size of the workforce is struggling to meet the demand. While this isn’t ideal, it’s a better position to be in than the reverse.

Because of this industry-wide challenge, workforce development remains an important topic for us at Ditch Witch. Supporting local trade schools with equipment and training needs, as well as building industry-leading virtual reality/simulation training technology are key initiatives we’re taking to develop the next generation of workforce.

Are changes in the workforce, including retirements, affecting your company?

It’s safe to say everyone in the industry is feeling the stress from an aging and retiring workforce. At Ditch Witch, we’re working to extend our recruiting efforts to reach out not only to the next generation of engineers and designers but also to welders and machinists. These efforts play into our support of local trade schools.

In what technological areas do you see the potential for the most innovation in 2024?

The biggest technological innovation we will see … more of in 2024 is smart, connected jobsites—everything from the initial utility locating to final reporting. Advancements in locating technology allow crews to collect data on utilities and the underground environment while they prepare for an underground construction job. Technicians can map and label identified utilities in real time and then upload the information to a mapping service.

By storing this data electronically, rather than manually, it helps reduce the risk of errors and allows future contractors to better plan for future work based on historical jobsite data. By using technology that’s designed to work together, there is the potential to streamline data sharing and access any data, when and where it’s needed, making the future of utility locating much simpler and more precise.

How are the Industrial Internet of Things, software and connectivity affecting your company specifically and the industry as a whole?

As mentioned earlier, connectivity is a critical innovation driving our company and the industry. Technological advancements that are making every part of the jobsite more connected are also driving huge return on investment and efficiency for our customers.

The latest utility locating product from Subsite, UtiliGuard 2 RTK receiver, features survey-grade technology and features dual-band antennas to provide operators with accurate and reliable positioning data with centimeter-grade accuracy. Its high level of accuracy and connectivity make it an ideal solution for gaining insight into the underground infrastructure to avoid cross bores during future projects.

Do you expect the infrastructure bill to affect your business or your customers’ businesses? How, if you can explain further?

The new infrastructure bill is overall a positive thing for the industry. It reinforces support for the critical work our customers do every day. It also means the … outlook of the industry is bright. There is plenty of work to go around. Now, it’s just a matter of encouraging the next generation of workers.

What will be the biggest challenge in 2024 for the industry?

Just as in 2023, workforce challenges will continue to be a struggle for the industry into 2024. As the workforce continues to age, we’ll do our part to encourage and support those who want to develop their skills in the industry.