Where 2020 brought considerable disruption, there is a hope 2021 will bring a degree of stability (however slight that might be). The good news, at least for the UK construction industry is that it approaches the dawn of a new year with more knowledge, experience and capability to handle future uncertainty.
Over the last few weeks, the Construction Industry News team has been speaking to various players within the nation’s built environment landscape and found a refreshing degree of sanguinity and optimism.
As thoughts turn to the year ahead and minds focus on a new set of challenges to face and opportunities to explore, we ask what the big issues will be in 2021 and how the sector will respond.
“The past nine months has seen fundamental change within the construction industry, which was previously a sector notorious for not changing,” explains Richard Waterhouse, Chief Strategy Officer, NBS. “Microsoft said that two years of digital transformation took place in two months and this is exactly what we’ve seen in our cloud platform when we look at the data and the usage stats.
“One aspect that we’ll see more of in the next few years is the adoption of digital tools from BIM through to online collaboration tools and specification tools. Experience from other industries shows that digital systems and access to data drives transformation of service and quality and improves productivity. If we’re going to improve building quality the industry needs to become more digitally driven where data can be shared and analysed. With the introduction of the Building Safety Bill, there will need to be a new register of safe and approved construction products and having access to a central cloud-based platform where this information is readily available will help facilitate that.”
“Many companies are investing in modern office spaces with Cat B fit-outs as a flexible, long-term solution with thoughtful consideration given to employee wellness, from visual appeal to acoustic comfort,” says Ben Hancock, Managing Director, Oscar Acoustics.
“The reconfiguring and repurposing of office spaces is a top priority, as employers look to create a calm, welcoming atmosphere for returning workers. Other considerations such as ventilation, flexibility, and optimum ergonomic curation are also shaping the future of work environments and will play an increasingly role in 2021 design briefs.
“This is because of a growing focus on health and wellbeing from organisations who want environments to sound as good as they look, to ensure long term employee welfare.”
“Smart technology is going to become even more influential on building design and prolific in construction. We’re already seeing an increase in the number of smart city projects coming online, harnessing evolving wireless solutions,” outlines PJ Farr, Managing Director, UK Connect.
“The advent of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 is further strengthening IOT networks and delivering a holistically connected environment which will improve peoples’ daily lives, professionally and personally.
“We are also seeing emerging, and existing, technology more readily embraced where once it was met with less enthusiasm. I expect we’ll see more advanced, fully-integrated site management software launching to offer a fully collaborative construction journey in real time. Equally, improved broadband and wireless will deliver better connectivity, making sites more efficient and easier to operate through faster data sharing, fewer outages and lower lag times.”
The Talent Pool
Adrian Attwood, Executive Director, DBR Ltd, meanwhile, believes that blooding new talent is key: “Increased focus is being placed on apprenticeships, with CITB set to expand apprenticeship support to all levy-registered construction employers throughout 2021. Support for employers will include help accessing grants, choosing the right apprenticeship standard and training provider, guidance through the Government’s online apprenticeships system, and building partnerships with colleges and training providers.
“The theme of the 14thannual National Apprenticeship Week (which is set to take place in February 2021) has been announced as “Build the Future”, and there will be a revitalised focus on encouraging people to consider how apprenticeships help individuals to build the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career in construction.
“This is necessary to provide much needed hope and inspiration for young people across the UK. It’s especially important for the sector, as Brexit comes into full effect at the end of this year and will likely affect the number of EU nationals working in UK construction.”
As you can see, it’s a mixed bag, but one thing’s for certain, we are seeing UK Construction undergoing a revolution, from a more concerted effort to embrace new technology, a more earnest drive toward sustainability and a greater appreciation of the benefits offered by apprenticeships.
If nothing else, 2020 has provided a catalyst for the industry to think in a smarter, more thorough and agile way. The big test will be to see whether the lessons and knowledge accrued during these anomalous times will be harnessed and used to improve practices and processes across the board. We guess only time will tell!