Looking Ahead To A New Decade In Construction
28th January 2020
The turn of a new year – and a new decade – is time for reflection. It’s a chance to appraise past achievements, flag present issues and set new goals for the future. Whilst we tend to associate January with personal change, a new year must also give companies and industries a prompt to pause for thought. The coming twelve months, and the new decade they lead into, presents each sector with a unique set of pressing challenges and fresh opportunities. The construction industry is no different.
One of the biggest challenges facing every sector over the next ten years, but especially construction, is environmental sustainability. 2020 began with news of unprecedented natural disasters linked to climate change, and the pressure is on for every individual, organisation and government to reduce their environmental impact. This is an especially big concern for the construction industry, as the built environment is estimated to contribute 40% to the UK’s total carbon footprint (operational and construction emissions), and emissions from cement represent 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
The task for this new decade, then, is to transform the way we operate across every area of construction so we can meet the needs of today without threatening those of tomorrow. For site operatives and contractors, this means allowing industry regulations to guide environmentally and community-focused construction, carefully choosing and recycling materials, and continually looking to minimise waste and pollution. For scientists and engineers, it means exploring new, sustainable building materials. For clients, it’s thoughtfully considering the long-term impact of plans. And for design teams and architects, it’s challenging tradition and refusing to conform to designs of the past. Take last autumn’s Stirling Prize winner as an example. The UK’s largest Passivhaus social housing scheme demonstrated that ultra-low energy social housing isn’t just possible, it can be aesthetically pleasing too. This scheme demonstrates that accepting environmental responsibility is simultaneously a call for innovation – and that’s an incredibly exciting call to answer in 2020 and beyond.
However, sustainability isn’t the only challenge the construction sector must face head on. Over recent years there’s been an increasing focus on the gender and age imbalance in our industry, and if we want it to flourish we need to continue pushing for more workforce diversity. Missing this off our list of priorities will mean missing out on a wealth of talent and ideas, which we desperately need in order to achieve that innovation. Fortunately, there are many practical changes every company can make to support greater diversity and allow women, young people, and marginalised groups to forge a career in construction. These include introducing more flexible working practices for all employees, helping de-stigmatise issues around childcare, supporting the education of young apprentices to open up new career prospects and offering work experience to demystify the industry. It’s also crucial to make it easy for employees to raise issues internally, so you can provide more support where it’s needed.
One final key challenge should be fully embracing the digital tools at our disposal. Over the past ten years, technology has revolutionised the way we work and communicate and the construction industry has also felt its effect. This is particularly seen in the widespread adoption of BIM, accelerated by the 2016 government mandate requiring all public sector projects to use BIM Level 2, at the very least. Despite this, there’s a sense that construction is lagging behind other industries in fulfilling its digital potential. For instance, there’s an opportunity to expand the role of AI in construction beyond modelling, from self-operating machines to site scanning software designed to detect hazards. Then there’s using technology to establish better onsite communication, monitor waste and record snagging. And there’s also the whole world of ‘smart buildings’, which has yet to be fully explored. If we want to see our sector achieve its full potential in the coming years, we need to be pursuing digital solutions to maximise productivity, efficiency, safety and sustainability. This, again, is something that must happen on every level, from authorities allocating investment to individual companies refining their processes.
At ITC, we believe that the next decade is full of challenges but it’s also not without hope. The developments we’ve seen in our sector over the past ten years show us that change is possible and we have the talent of many bright minds and innovative thinkers to help us achieve it. Every challenge is also an opportunity: a chance to find better ways of working together and building so the future can be brighter.
Nick Conway, ITC Managing Director