The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything in the space of just a few months. However, with light hopefully at the end of tunnel with the progress that has been made with developing a vaccine, new opportunities are becoming apparent – particularly in the construction sector. Here Ibrahim Imam, co-founder of PlanRadar, explores what the most sought-after construction skills might be post-Covid
Covid-19 has triggered one of the most disruptive periods on record and the pandemic has presented the biggest challenge to the construction industry in the last 50 years.
As millions stayed home amid lockdown measures and travel bans, many construction sites across the world had to suspend operations indefinitely and building-material supply chains had to halt production and distribution.
Now as many industries are dealing with a second lockdown and society seeks to adapt to the new Covid-era, the construction sector, while able to continue working, is still dealing with disrupted supply chains and operational restrictions, alongside on-site protocols that are curbing productivity. As a result, the global forecast for construction growth in 2020 has been revised from 3.1% down to 0.5%.
However, even during this challenging time, new opportunities are emerging.
Back in July, Boris Johnson announced a £5bn injection to accelerate construction across the country with a ‘build, build, build’ initiative. With construction at the core of the Government’s economic growth strategy, there is an immediate need to ensure that we have a skilled workforce in place to boost infrastructure and help put Britain on the fast track to recovery.
However, despite the construction industry being one of the UK’s leading economic drivers, a perceived shortage of skilled professionals is becoming an increasing problem. In fact, UK Construction Media have highlighted that in England alone, a staggering half a million builders are needed.
Despite several high-profile announcements of job cuts in the sector, the number of opportunities is still expected to rise over the coming year. However, the lack of suitable candidates is hindering the sectors potential to support continued economic and social growth across the country as we emerge from the past six months of unprecedented upheaval.
In addition to this challenge, the UK also has an ageing population and, as a result, the construction sector is set to see a significant proportion of skilled workers leave the industry in the immediate future. In fact, around a quarter of the construction workforce is over the age of fifty. Now the concern is not just a lack of workers, but a lack of skilled workers, as the new cohort doesn’t have the numbers to replace those retiring and lacks their depth of experience.
Unfortunately, too often the skills agenda has been an afterthought and so it is crucial that the industry as a whole focuses on investing in training the upcoming generation with the skills they need to effectively drive forward the infrastructure transformation of the nation.
Roles that range from engineers and civil construction workers to risk and compliance specialists are among the most in demand according to a recent report. Alongside this, a shortage of data analyists and quantity surveyors is also hindering an acceleration of activity within the construction industry.
Moreover, employers are becoming concerned that there are a significant lack of bricklayers, plumbers and site managers coming through to fill the number of job vacancies that are opening up. However, whilst these on-the-ground practical skills are imperative to ensure the construction industry can sustain momentum, in this new Covid-era, the sector also needs tradesmen who have exceptional soft skills. For example, being able to work flexibly and apply logical thinking to new situations will be key, enabling workers to react quickly to ever-changing situations on site. Employers will also be seeking people who can be creative in their role on site and use the software that is available to them to its maximum potential. Now more than ever, the industry will be looking for the workforce to go above and beyond to enhance the impact of their roles on site.
One key way that individuals can have an impact on a whole team’s productivity is by becoming digitally skilled.
Digital technologies that work to optimize processes inside construction projects, such as digital workflow and project management platforms, real-time progress tracking and advanced schedule optimization programs, can significantly increase productivity levels on site when adopted and used effectively.
Moreover, AI advancements and the growing role of the IoT, along with digital collaboration tools such as BIM programs and 4D simulations, could prove invaluable to engineers and contractors when planning projects and optimizing schedules.
At PlanRadar we’ve found that at least 60 percent of construction companies are not dealing with any digitization at all and a recent index from McKinsey ranked construction as the least-digitized industry in Europe. The untapped potential for digitization to improve the speed and efficiency of projects is potentially monumental. There is a wide range of reasons for the slow uptake of digital solutions, but one missing piece is often a lack of staff with the confidence to implement and use them.
In order to retain a competitive market advantage, companies can no longer afford to overlook the importance of empowering workers and engineers with digital capabilities in order to succeed in this new Covid-era. As a result, there has arguably been no better time to invest and upskill the entire workforce to enhance their IT literacy levels and ensure their skills set matches up to the new digital era.
Equally, though the new cohort of recent graduates and apprentices entering the industry may be fewer in number and less experienced than those retiring, they bring with them the abilities of digital natives and will be key to the industry’s digitization in the coming years.
Ultimately, we can speculate on the trajectory for the construction industry and it is clear to see that engineering, construction and building will have crucial roles to play in the post-pandemic recovery. Having a skilled workforce to support this growth is imperative, and now it is crucial that employers and employees alike work together to ensure that the skills gap does not remain an obstacle for broader economic growth.
Ibrahim Imam is the co-founder of PlanRadar, Europe’s leading ConTech SaaS solution for digital documentation & communication in construction and real estate projects. The tech is used for construction documentation, defect and task management, certifications, maintenance, handovers, and more.