Let's look forward to the year ahead. Whilst uncertainty still lingers following the vicissitudes of 2016, it seems there are some things of which we can be certain to see in the next twelve months within the UK construction industry. Here are a few of them:
Increased use of technology
There is a lot of buzz around Construction Tech at the moment: Virtual Reality, BIM and Data Storage are all topics getting a lot of media coverage. Whilst some of these advancements are not new, experts predict this is the year they will be launched. Such trends are certainly gathering pace and provide a professionally wholesome distraction away from economic or political musings. With the rapid development of technology across all sectors, the theme out there is that innovation must prevail within construction for the industry to evolve. The Farmer report has highlighted this and raised appropriate awareness, this year it will (hopefully) be about action.
Modular & Pre-fabricated Building
Leading on from this, the notion of pre-fabricated buildings is likely to get a good boost this year. In collaboration with the emphasis on affordable housing, as tackled in the UK government's Autumn Review, offsite construction methods should finally gain a stronger foothold in the market. The construction industry has always been slow to innovate but it appears this will be the year the windscreen wipers are switched on when it comes to the way in which pre-fabricated methods of construction are viewed.
This is not new news. The dearth of skilled labour is widely reported with the recession cutting jobs for many who then left the industry all together. A lack of technical training in schools and less emphasis on trades within education has exacerbated the situation shrinking the pool of workers further. Whilst apprenticeships are back on the agenda within some technical disciplines i.e. quantity surveying, it will be a long time before this approach becomes embedded into the professional psyche of our industry.
Aside from the long term implications of a dwindling labour force, alarming in itself when considered in conjunction with an aging workforce, construction firms are also feeling the immediate effect of labour shortage here and now. Higher costs and longer project schedules are the result. With construction costs on the rise due to the fallen sterling and the unknown future for many EU workers in our country, this is a topic that will very much remain in the spotlight.
Integration & Collaborative models
Just as the excitement of virtual and augmented reality promotes the enhancement of project collaboration, albeit before building begins, so too does the concept of integration when it comes to construction itself. In the name of efficiency, collaborative project delivery methods are likely to become more popular this year. As PRS makes waves in the residential market, so too does the rising prevalence of joint venture partnerships between private developers and local authorities. With large infrastructure schemes gathering pace in the way of Heathrow and HS2, integrated project delivery and private public partnerships are likely to gain further ground in 2017 as a welcomed and overdue approach to help streamline projects towards success.
Lastly, one thing of which we can be very much certain 2017 will bring is further uncertainty. Given the economic and political climate of the world, this cannot be avoided and uncertainty is still lingering like a fog around accurate forecasts for 2017. Nonetheless, this will be a pivotal year and the fog will eventually have to lift. Hopefully by its end, we are all much more clear on where we are going.
EU: once Article 50 is triggered this Spring we can start to wade our way through the unknown a little more as a nation although many answers will still be far from reach, irrespective of our impatience.
Trump: from an economic perspective, his cabinet does seem to be 'pro-business'. Regardless of his agenda to draw business away from Europe and irrespective of the question mark around its own existential status, some experts claim that there may well be a chance Europe could benefit from any resumption of growth in the US.
Ultimately, so much time is spent on such speculation that until we know more, all we can do as an industry is put our best foot forward. We must fight our case to ensure the construction sector is visible when it comes to representation in future trade deals; something Lord Stunnell seems to be pioneering from what the industry press recently report, we must evaluate and innovate where we can, and then just get on with it. Whilst we wait for clarity and commitment from those at the front, it is up to us to seize the opportunities that the changing world can bring in the mean time.