2020 & The Future of Construction – Strong and Stable?

What does the future look like for the construction industry?

It’s an interesting question, yet the answer varies wildly depending on who answers the question. It seems that politically 2019 was a stagnant year, filled with questions and problems rather than solutions and answers. But it also appears that many of us began to consider the future in a way we hadn’t done before.

This year we have attended so many conferences, seminars and events focussed on the future of the industry. So: as the year draws to a close, I thought I would consider what we may see change and what still seems like a distant dream.

Technology

As a child, anything I watched set in the future had one thing in common: Robots. In fact, robots even appeared in Greek mythology. But it seems we are getting to an age where robotics are becoming not just a reality, but an integral part of any industry.

Robotics and AI are being used in the design and manufacture of prefabricated buildings and there are even robots which lay bricks.

This year the government named Mark Farmer, the author of Modernise or Die, as the Tsar for Modern Methods of Construction. With drive from government, could this mean the industry will finally begin to catch up, where it has traditionally lagged behind?

Every day new technologies to help improve productivity come onto the market. This year Digital Construction Week was bigger than it has ever been.

But with so much out there, how do you choose what product is right for your projects? Thankfully we think we have a solution. Glimpse of the Future will be back in 2020 with an exciting series of events. These fast-paced events showcase the latest construction technology on the market. Each presenter has just 15 minutes to present their product, and the solutions it provides. This means you get a really focussed insight into some of the latest developments in a really compact programme.

Keep your eyes peeled for details of the 2020 event schedule to be announced soon. In the meantime, if you are working with interesting new tech and would like to get involved, get in touch here.

Sustainability

This year, the climate change emergency has taken centre stage as one of the world’s most urgent problems. Protests around the world called governments to account. A 16-year-old girl has taken her fears for our future direct to the UN. Before the recent election, 25% of Brits placed climate change as one of their top three issues. This is in stark contrast to before the 2017 election, when just 8% ranked it as important.

No matter your opinions on Greta Thunberg or Extinction Rebellion, it seems clear that we need to focus on protecting our planet. As Stuart recently pointed out, even if you don’t believe in climate change, we can all agree there’s only so much space to dump our rubbish in landfill sites.

The built environment accounts for around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. As an industry could we be doing more to design, build and maintain buildings in a way which reduces our carbon emissions? Whether conferences or just meetings with clients, sustainability seems at the forefront of everyone’s minds. From the materials we use to the methods we employ, there’s recognition of the need to look at innovative ways to build. Focus on the full construction lifecycle can ensure projects remain sustainable long after work is finished and occupants move in. 35% of the world’s landfill is made up of construction demolition waste so we also need to think about how we dispose of buildings once (and if) we demolish them.

There are so many seminars and events on this subject, but if you are in Cambridge on 18th March, then COCCEC have a seminar with Jaw Sustainability, Saunders Boston and JPA coming up.

Skills Gap

The shortage of skilled workers is something that’s afflicted industry for some time. Many lay the blame on the cuts to training that began in the financial crisis of 2008. A lack of graduates entering the industry ten years ago, led to a lack of suitably qualified professionals in the workforce today. Others blame more recently political events…

Anecdotally, we’ve several clients and friends actively trying to recruit (and struggling). For those who do have the skills, higher salaries and quick progression are possible.

The industry suffers from an ageing population. Add to that a possible image problem which sees many talented young people discount the idea of a career in construction and you can see how we will struggle to keep up with demand. That’s without even mentioning Brexit!

According to the Construction Skills Network forecasts, the industry will need to recruit 33,700 professionals a year to keep up with demand over the next five years. And as we see the use of technology increase, we’ll see a demand for a different type of professional increase as well. New skills are needed, that the previous generation does not have to pass on. Those in the industry will need to keep abreast of new developments in order to continue successfully managing projects.

Diversity

Diversity is an issue that we care greatly about at Limeslade. Regular readers of our blog may remember some of our previous articles on the topic.

Thankfully it is beginning to look this the industry is taking note of the problem. This year, London Build opened up the conversation to a wider audience with their Diversity Hub. But there is still much work to be done.

Just 4% of the industry comprises professionals from BAME backgrounds, and women only comprise 13%. These statistics are frankly not good enough.

It is surprising how many people in senior positions in the industry deny the problem. Common responses when challenged include ‘we employ the best person for the job’ or, ‘our admin staff are women’ or ‘we couldn’t find anyone’.  Do such responses forget our inherent unconscious biases? Do they suggest a need to recruit from a wider pool of less traditional applicants?

It is heartening however, that we see the conversation begin to move away from the standard discussions and complaints. We’ve seen people seriously looking for positive solutions. There are some amazing initiatives across the country, with groups doing a fantastic job putting diversity firmly on the agenda.

Do you sometimes tire of attending events featuring elderly white men? Why not take a look at the events organised by NAWIC or Let’s Build. And for those of you who fit that demographic (step forward @stuartwilks) but recognise the industry needs to do more, don’t be afraid of coming along either. Until we all join the discussion, we will never be able to make real, long-lasting change.

Is the solution obvious?

So, taking all the above together, it appears to me that joined-up thinking could perhaps be a solution to some of our problems.

By looking to recruit from a wider pool of talent and entice those who may not have previously considered construction as a career, we may be able to alleviate some problems the skills gap are causing. Diversity is good for business. Studies show that a diverse workforce leads to better innovation and improved financial performance.

We all know that younger people adapt to new technology much faster than their older counterparts. Those of us who work in the built environment know it to be a rewarding industry to work with. If we can spread that message to the wider world, we can begin to encourage young people to consider construction as a future career. This would improve no doubt improve our adoption of new technology.

Technology is enabling us to build our cities in a more sustainable way. Digital twins allow us to predict how buildings will perform over time allowing us to consider the environmental impact at design stage. Modular buildings are on the rise, resulting in less energy being expended at the construction stage.

We have a long way to go, but we are taking steps in the right direction. I look forward to seeing where we go next.