It’s the dawn of a new era in the construction industry. Despite the significant setbacks of the past few years, the industry has reported strong continual growth in almost every market. During the global recession at the turn of the decade, construction was one of the worst hit sectors in the Western world. From the economic downturn emerged a new, streamlined construction industry, more socially, environmentally and financially aware than ever. Construction may be well on the path to recovery, but the industry will always face its share of adversity, particularly as markets shift, technology develops and priorities change. Here are six of the biggest challenges facing the global construction industry in the coming years.
Following the recession, the market’s newly established buoyancy will entail rising costs and a demand for new investment. Even with an increase in initiatives for new talent and rising employment rates, construction in Western countries still lags behind most other sectors.Â Contractors have highlighted the effect of the recession on clients; now decidedly more cost savvy and typically prone to search out multiple estimates instead of settling. This is great for the client and encourages competition, but also forces firms to drive down their costs in order to remain competitive. The economic uncertainty of the past year has also fed fears of another dip in the market, which could undo much of the work the industry has done to claw its way back to profitability.
The industry’s biggest issues are often a reflection of the big talking points in society. In construction, the effect of the built environment on the surrounding natural habitat, and a buildings long-term relevanceÂ are finally taking centre stage. But sustainability is about more than just the impact urban developments have on the natural world. It also requires ensuring developments continue to function well into the future, allowing the next generation, and even generations after, to enjoy the structures we create today. With cities like Dubai vying for the title of the most sustainable green economy in the world by 2021, sustainability is fast becoming big business.
Design technologies like BIM are helping further integrate efficiency-planning into the construction process whilst enabling developers to showcase a design’s ecological properties before any foundations are even laid. Government initiatives designed to give prominence to sustainable developments are also encouraging developers and industry experts to incorporate sustainable elements into the design and construction process, but the coming years will see these priorities solidify and become an integral part every new development.
Efficient integration of technology
As any industry develops, new technologies will arise designed to streamline processes and increase productivity. In the construction and architecture sectors, these technologies can cater to anything from internal company processes to the design stage to on-site construction. The issue arises when new technologies clash with traditional methods and industry veterans are reticent to embrace the potential dividends these technologies have to offer. By slowly and intelligently integrating new technological features into daily practices, the transition between traditional and new technology can be seamless, causing minimum disruption to projects.
Each successive wave of technology brings with it an inevitable level of resistance from industry veterans unwilling, or unsure how, to adapt. People are naturally averse to change until they can appreciate its practical application saves time and effort. It’s the management’s responsibility to enable employees to see the benefits in switching to a new technology. But the need for efficient integration of technology affects more than just the studios making the transition. Those firms unable to evolve with the technology will inevitably be left behind, potentially causing valuable skills and knowledge to be lost to the entire industry forever.
Depletion of skills & labour
Despite the importance of adapting to the new opportunities presented by technological advances, it’s essential we don’t forget the human skills that are still so vital to the industry. New technologies come with their own unique set of challenges as well as advantages, and when technology fails, human ingenuity and hard graft can be the only thing standing between a completed project and significant delays. The construction industry has embraced new technology with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but losing the human crafts that preceded these technologies would be a major loss to the industry. Even as the means by which buildings are designed, mapped and constructed develop, the beating heart of the industry has remained with the workforce. Companies, clients and the industry as a whole would do well to remember this.
Construction contractors have regularly cited finding skilled labourers as one of the most significant challenges facing the construction industry today. Despite significant growth, the industry has access to almost 20% fewer workers than in pre-recession 2008. Partly a result of the severe layoffs witnessed during the recession, this statistic also points to the growing number of young talent seeking employment in less labour-intensive, and more stable, markets.
Investing in new talent
Undoubtedly one of the biggest issues facing the industry in the coming years is the need to encourage and invest in new talent. In the UK, government ministers have taken to calling on major firms to encourage more young people to consider going into construction. According to a report released late last year by the Policy Exchange, the industry will require 20% more staff within the next five years to meet the country’s construction needs. Whilst the rapid rate of urbanisation in developing countries, particularly in Africa, has given a huge boost to the industry, the challenge of attracting skilled new workers has been felt across the world. It’s not just traditional roles that require an injection of fresh labour. As new technology spurs on the creation of new roles within the industry, it’s vital initiatives are put in place to ensure there is a workforce to fill these new roles. Studies have found that new construction and design technologies can spark an initial boost in personnel, particularly when they’re the subject of significant media attention. But major firms and national governments must continue to encourage the development and distribution of new skills, ensuring a consistently dynamic, efficient and, above all, effective workforce.
The construction industry continues to recover from the global financial crisis of the past decade, but it still faces an uphill battle against a myriad of social, political, environmental and economic challenges. It’s only by embracing change now and preparing to tackle the obstacles on the horizon that construction can hope to keep pace with our rapidly changing world.