2020 Was a Turbulent Year for Construction, Will 2021 Be Any Calmer?

What a year 2020 turned out to be. Looking back, it’s astonishing how quickly Covid-19 went from being an outbreak of an unknown infection happening elsewhere to something that turned life on its head. The construction industry had to learn rapidly how to deliver projects with remote teams and social distancing and in a climate of great uncertainty.

The moves already made towards digital transformation helped the industry to cope. But, in reality, we are still a relatively short way down this road. The same could be said with social value, sustainability and zero carbon targets. These remain important themes that will continue to  transform the industry.

Change was also driven, once again, by skills shortages. A mixture of travel restrictions and an impending Brexit made a difficult situation worse. While the industry works hard to address skills issues through recruitment, retraining and apprenticeship programmes, we have to face the reality that we will never completely solve the problem through this route alone.

Productivity and Modernisation

Rethinking the way we build has gone to the top of the priority list. It is the only viable route to solving many of the issues we face and to making an overdue step change in productivity levels. The events of 2020 gave added impetus to transformations in methods and materials that will gather pace into 2021 and beyond.

Next year will see a record £100 billion in capital investment by the Government – the largest sustained investment for more than 40 years. Money will flow into better roads, cycle lanes, and improvements to rail travel, as well as into school and healthcare building programmes.

Housebuilding continues to be a priority with a renewed focus on social housing as people struggle with the economic impact of the pandemic. There will be a great deal to be delivered in the coming years so securing productivity improvements will be critical.

Uncertainty and Opportunity

As we move into the New Year, Covid-19 is still with us and we don’t know how long for. And, of course, there is Brexit. With or without a deal there is still a lot of uncertainty and upheaval around the corner. Delays to material supplies at busy container ports are maybe a taste of what’s to come. There seems little doubt that for at least the early part of 2021 this is an area that will need careful planning and management.

You might reasonably argue that any organisation coming out of 2020 intact and with a healthy order book could cope with pretty much anything. What’s important now is that we don’t let up on the pace of change or become complacent. There are challenges and there are opportunities. 2021 will be eventful, hopefully in a positive way.