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Unexpected industries: Construction and engineering sectors pioneering the use of AI

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read

Embracing AI as a tool in the workplace has been synonymous with the financial and healthcare industries. But now, other industries are getting involved and even leading the charge.

Artificial intelligence (AI) adoption is becoming prominent across many businesses, but the same ones are usually brought up and commended for their usage of it. Now, forward thinkers in other industries are charting bold courses towards AI implementation.

Industries such as financial services, retail, and telecommunications are applauded for their digital transformations and innovation. Meanwhile, some industries – such as construction, engineering, and legal – have historically been slower in adopting new technology. In fact, according to a 2023 Deloitte report, only 26 per cent of construction and engineering businesses in Australia, Japan, and Singapore use AI and machine learning, and only 35 per cent plan to use them in the future.


Bucking this trend and actually becoming some of the first globally to adopt certain AI principles is John Holland, a construction company. Over the past six years, the organisation has been challenging these norms by showing an increased focus on technology and digital transformation.

Bastian Uber, chief digital and information officer at John Holland, shared the value that it gives them in their competitive market: “Exploring these technologies is crucial for our growth and to stay ahead in a competitive market. We’re always looking at new technologies to see if we can gain value from them.”

Although its technological journey has been going on for six years, it began adopting AI methods in 2021, using learning and optimal character recognition to process its invoices. This early adoption yielded significant productivity benefits, spurring further exploration of AI’s potential.

In 2023, the company collaborated with Microsoft to build a private version of a well-known AI tool, ChatGPT. This enabled employees to harness generative AI’s potential without risking any cyber security or data breaches.

“The generative AI genie was out of the bottle and we could see the benefits for John Holland. We quickly realised that if we didn’t provide a safe and secure solution for our organisation, we’d risk having our data shared in public-facing generative AI applications,” said Uber

Another example of the construction industry adopting AI is GHD. Its stance is not just focused on using AI for productivity gains but also on seizing the opportunity to tackle some of the world’s most complex challenges.

“First, we are already seeing it drive efficiencies, which enable our people to focus on where they can create more value for themselves and our clients. Second, we believe AI opens doors to solving global challenges that were previously beyond the scope of human capacity, especially in areas like the environment and major infrastructure,” said Paul Murphy, chief information officer at GHD.

Unlocking new solutions and processes is something that both companies show a keen interest in. By using AI to assist with this, they are not only employing those processes but also gaining benefits in a competitive market.

Reports of increased productivity were also factors, with both John Holland and GHD reporting that they save anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes at an individual level per day, accumulating between 10 and 20 hours saved per person per month.

Seeing organisations in the construction industry leading innovation highlights the opportunity that generative AI presents in helping digitally transform various sectors that, historically, have been slower to adopt technology to increase productivity.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.