Between continually rapid technological advancements and the lingering uncertainty of Brexit, 2020 will doubtless see many industries undergoing necessary changes. This includes one of the UK’s most valuable industries — the construction industry.
What challenges will 2020 pose for the sector? What impacts will political and economic change have on it? And, more important, how will the sector change to overcome these new challenges?
2020’s construction challenges
The construction industry has faced a number of difficult circumstances over the years, and 2020 looks to follow suit. Some problems have been ongoing issues within the industry, and some are new contenders for the year, but all require a planned process to counter them. Here is a selection of the main difficulties set to test the sector this year:
A problem that has persisted in the construction industry over recent years is that of an aging workforce, and a lack of skilled workers available to pick up the shortage. According to the Federation of Master Builders, the sector suffered the worst level on record last year in terms of the skilled labour shortage for small and medium-sized businesses. This included everyone from bricklayers to electricians, plasterers and plumbers.
This lack of skilled workers has meant an increase in wages, which is certainly felt by an industry already tackling rising raw material costs.
The construction sector requires 157,000 new workers by 2021 if it is to address the demand, says the Chartered Institute of Building. One method of achieving this is through apprenticeships, with construction companies being actively encouraged to take on apprentices. Luckily, this seems to be underway, with apprenticeship starts in the UK construction sector rising: between 2012 and 2017, the number of apprenticeships increased from around 16,000 to around 26,000.
Naturally, Brexit can be chalked up as a major issue for the construction industry in 2020, as well as for every other sector. While it is looking increasingly unlikely that the nation will indeed leave on the 29th March (or, at least, that it will do so in full preparation), all the ambiguity surrounding the event is hitting industries hard.
On top of this, figures show that more than five per cent of construction workers are from the EU, with 50 per cent of workers from the EU within the south-east of London alone. And it’s not just manpower that’s coming from abroad either. Around 62 per cent of imported building materials are brought to the UK from the EU too. Not only could the sector experience another hit to its already struggling skilled worker levels, it could see raw material prices rise further, as well as losing out on access to the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund.
It’s difficult to build a solution to a problem as ever-changing and unstable as Brexit. For now, a detailed inventory of a business’ required materials is a start, as this will allow a company a full overview of what they have and what they need, as well as what can be repaired rather than replaced. Plus, if there was ever a time for shopping around for a new and better deal, now might be the time! UK-sourced materials may well now be cheaper in the long run than EU-sourced.
As for the impact on EU-origin workers, a petition demanding permanent EU citizenship after Brexit could help, as well as talks regarding the movements of workers from the EU to the UK.
A greener world
There’s a huge amount of pressure on the construction industry regarding carbon emission. The World Economic Forums notes that the construction sector contributes around 40 per cent of the global carbon emission total. There are a number of new regulations in place and coming into effect that aim to crackdown on the nation’s carbon emissions. It’s crucial for the construction industry to change to adapt to these.
Companies within the construction sector should be actively seeking to lower its carbon emissions through recycling and reusing materials in every project they undertake. Also, companies could look at their existing equipment to see if any outdated technology could be upgraded to a greener alterative: for example, access platforms could be replaced with greener hybrid motors.
Technology is showing no signs of slowing down, even for an industry that is often noted as being slow to accept technological advancements. But with robotics making their way onto construction sites, it’s undeniable that the world of construction is changing to become more efficient and, by extension, more profitable thanks to technology. For this to be a truly efficient change across the sector, however, all companies need to get on board.
The sector needs to look at technology for the benefits it offers, rather than in concern of it replacing a human worker. In particular, new technology has the capability of improving communication within a construction project, as well as helping to spot issues within a project through the use of BIM software.
2020 is certainly presenting its fair share of challenges, but none of them are insurmountable, provided the construction sector moves forwards with the right approach.