According to an Associated Press story published this weekend, a wave of automation is transforming the construction industry, as it struggles to find enough skilled workers.

One innovation is a bricklaying robot called SAM, Semi-Automated Mason, which can lay 3,000 bricks in an eight-hour shift, several times more than a mason working by hand.

Executive Director of the Montana Contractors Association, Carey Hegreberg said there’s a lot of buzz about automation in the building trades.

“There’s no question that we are experiencing a workforce shortage in construction throughout the country, and it’s fairly acute here in Montana, as well,” said Hegreberg. “Obviously, if you can’t find workers, you’re going to turn to other means and automation and mechanization is certainly one option, for instance, driverless trucks.”

Hegreberg said once young people realize the living that an experienced carpenter, plumber or electrician can make, hopefully, the number of students will grow.

“A lot of these young people that learn a trade end up starting their own companies,” he said. “The opportunities for entrepreneurs abound. Once they get five or ten years of training, they open their own construction company and it’s an industry that still has huge opportunities, and the more specialized the trade, the higher the pay. Our member companies offer fully employer paid health insurance for workers and their families.”

Hegreberg said those training to be plumbers and electricians can learn on the job and be paid well while learning the skill.

“You’re learning the trade, learning the skill rather than going to a four-year university, getting a degree and incurring a huge student loan debt,” he said.

Hegreberg said he doesn’t see robot bricklayers in Montana anytime soon, but the times are changing.