Jaga UK asks experts – What is next for the construction industry?

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How must the construction industry adapt to create a successful future?

by Martin Townsend

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It takes a unique question or experience to inspire a blog, and in this case, the question came from the team at Jaga.  I was asked to discuss the core trends which are currently dominating the future of the construction industry, and whilst any blog on this topic must come with a suitable number of caveats, I have endeavoured to outline my thoughts below.

This subject matter is enormous, and in many ways, the biggest challenge is deciding where to start.

In this case, I begin by considering the past. Whilst every former era of construction is confined to the rearview mirror of history, the lessons learnt during those periods continue to shape the present, and inform the future. One of the biggest construction trends right now is to re-evaluate the methodologies of the past. This is heavily influencing how we approach new and emerging technologies, whether that is with caution, or with full-throttle adoption.

These emerging technologies are many and varied, and are completely changing the face of the industry. Virtual reality and 3D printing have long since left the realms of science fiction to become invaluable tools for those working in construction and architectural design. Equally, we are seeing a cross-pollination of technologies across a raft of sectors – think car batteries moving into the realm of construction – which results in refreshing new ideas and ways of working.

However, for me, the most exciting change is subtler. Conversation within the industry has matured in-line with societal, and there is now an ever-increasing emphasis on the adaptability of spaces, buildings, communities, and neighbourhoods. These must now be designed to meet the rapidly developing needs of an aging population, along with a changing climate, to satisfy current and future demands on the spaces in which we work and live.

In order to facilitate these changes long term, there is also much discussion around how we can balance our rising population and evolving city scapes with the imperative conservation of our resources. There is a developing dialogue around how we can rethink the relationship between suppliers and end-users, and how that can translate into a greater understanding of the benefits of eco-friendly products and systems. I also very much anticipate a rise of the circular economy, whereby we drastically reduce waste whilst increasing well-being, a circumstance which will certainly change construction for the better.

Furthermore, we are seeing a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality. This is particularly relevant to housing developments, where consumers are far better informed than ever-before, and can conduct research on products and builds at the touch of a button. One example of this enforced transparency is consumer interest in long-term operating costs. Savvy buyers are now comfortable asking questions about factors such as the efficiency of a home’s heating system, green finance, or overall adaptability, and have the knowledge to back it up. A consumer led agenda of quality, through demand, rather than the supply side, is gradually becoming a reality.

This new level of transparency also enables a wider group of people to hold corporate groups to account, addressing sustainability issues and furthering public understanding of these. I see this in the conversations which I have daily – individuals involved in construction are beginning to realise that their brands have a responsibility beyond shareholder returns, and this is influencing how projects are developed and completed. Looking to the future, the graduates of today are just as interested in a company’s values and corporate social responsibility (CSR) as they are in performance on the stock exchange, a telling indicator of our future captains of industry.

Equally, as we become more international, there will be an expectation, or perhaps a need, for global governance to shape the construction agenda. In the current climate, it would be easy to stray into Trump or Brexit territory, but these are only a minor part of the story. The Paris Agreement, and the alignment of most (excluding the notable previous example!) high-level views of climate change, is a vital part of the future of construction. And, whilst a great level of volatility remains on the global stage, the increase of products and services being delivered on an international scale means that there is a rising need for consistency and commonality, and this should be driven by standards.

Related to this, is the changing way in which businesses collaborate. Collaboration has always been central to the construction industry, but to me at least, it is becoming more noticeable. This extends beyond collaboration between similar organisations, but also to those – potentially from completely different industries – who share a similar problem. Whilst this, to my mind, can only be a good thing, it’s vital that we develop and maintain governance models to ensure stakeholders can have confidence in what is being achieved, in a way that is not anti-competitive. This leads to interesting discussions around how legislation, such as competition laws originally put in place to protect companies, do not become barriers.

For those whose chosen profession is linked to the construction industry, it is perhaps one of the most exciting periods of the industry to be working in. If you are reading this from outside the sector, I hope this blog has given you pause for thought, and perhaps given you reason to re-evaluate the construction industry as one you may choose to join.Our once male dominated, and arguably, unsafe and unsanitary industry is evolving in front of our eyes. Top minds from top universities are gravitating to the sector, and the way we look at construction is shifting enormously, with innovative technologies, as well as new attitudes, hugely shaping the future.

 

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