Construction 2020: an open opinion on what the experts say

Following a recent article in Building.com about experts’ vision for construction 2020, here’s a Kreo view into some of the comments.

Overall the sentiment of the contributors to the article was positive and optimistic. Most were hopeful rather than predictive. In this post we give our opinion and try to make a few predictions for the new decade.

Skills shortage in the construction industry

Cute pupils playing with building blocks at the elementary schoolAnn Bentley on the board of RLB said, “Where I hope we will no longer be surprised is seeing diversity in the workplace”. So far in 2020, we've seen one article on how to solve this: How to save the construction industry workforce crisis. The article is right to focus on the need to bring young people into the industry. 

Annabel Le Lohé of Storey Homes was “concerned that the industry’s approach to the skills shortage will not be wide-reaching enough”. We can hope that technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, will replace some of the more traditional skills we need today. But new technology will create new jobs to be filled, usually with a more specialist or complex set of skills attached.

Kreo is collaborating with Arcadis and Ahead Partnership on an event in Birmingham to help encourage young people to consider construction as a career. Kreo will offer its design technology to help children understand construction, architecture and town planning. In ten years’ time, using AI in building design will be the norm, so we must start training young people now.

As we see an increase in construction technology, age diversity will likely be the main focus for the industry. What the industry might not solve as quickly is gender diversity. At Kreo, we have a higher proportion of female employees than most construction companies - but the bar is not high.  We're also beating the percentages in the tech industry, which also has disappointing statistics on gender diversity

The architecture, engineering & construction industry (AEC) knows it has a gender diversity problem. This is why we see groups such as Women in Construction and Women in BIM rise in popularity in the UK. What we still don't see from the industry is a sense of urgency around bringing more women into the workforce. The lack of construction talent and diversity is damaging the industry's already low productivity levels. Drastic action needs to be taken now if the industry's proportion of women is going to even double this decade.

From Kreo’s assessment, the prediction for construction 2020 regarding skills is: there will be a significant increase in young people entering the industry. Women's participation will still be slow and insufficient, despite the hard work of the industry groups for women.

Methods of construction

Modern building at night

According to Steve Watts of Alinea, “The big hope for the year ahead is that value for money is recognised over lowest cost”. Another hope rather than a prediction, but a big hope shared by Kreo. The property and construction industry knows that good quality is worth paying extra for - but this disappears in practice. Especially if we have a skills shortage, project planning will get ever more expensive. Unfortunately, rather than spend more money, corners are usually cut.

The two key ways to combat the rising costs of construction are collaboration and technology. Clients need to make decisions based on accuracy, rather than cost. But that means that the whole bidding process needs to be more honest and open. As James Wates (of Wates) put it, “the best way to come up with innovations is to get everybody around the table early in the planning process”.

If the construction industry is able to start using technology, it will quickly find that the same work becomes cheaper to perform. Simon Toplass of Pagabo asked “how relevant will [bricklayers] be when modular builds and automation become the norm”? Modular building and automation will completely disrupt traditional construction. The race to the bottom could be eliminated, as all solutions will be more predictable when everything is built off site. 

Kreo’s prediction is that offsite construction will have a good decade, especially with Mark Farmer at the helm. Project outcomes will become more predictable and, importantly, cost estimation will get a step further in becoming more transparent. The different parties in the industry need to trust one another and share more openly. Modern methods of construction will enable this, which will in turn allow clients to look beyond cost and more into value for money.

Living and working differently

group of young business people having fun, relaxing and working in creative room space at modern startup office

There are aspects of construction 2020 that seem more realistic when you look into the way people now live and work. Despite the failures of WeWork, it has truly disrupted the real estate sector.

Sean Bradley of Morgan Sindall Construction suggested, “I think we will be surprised by the growth in the senior living market. People’s expectations of retirement are clearly changing for the better”. Thinking more about housing needs for specific groups may make it easier to break down the challenge of providing sufficient housing.

In the UK, we are seeing fewer opportunities for young people to get on the housing ladder. Instead of trying to make it possible to create more homes to buy, the AEC industry and property sector could focus on improving rented accommodation. An example of where this is working well is the collective, who design and build co-living buildings, “reimagining renting so you can live your best life”. With AI in building design and modern methods of construction, we reduce the restrictions on how we can live and work in buildings.

Another important aspect to consider is the environment. “We will build more developments which, as well as being low-carbon, are great places to live and work,” said Barny Evans of WSP. As discussed in a recent Unissu article, sustainability is a big theme for the decade ahead. Out of all of the themes raised in the Building.com article, sustainability seems the most likely to see positive change in the new year.

The productivity problem

Erland Rendall of Atorus Consult suggested, “We could see construction productivity and wellbeing increasing significantly”. We at Kreo believe that we will see construction productivity increase significantly, in line with construction tech trends. Technology has been slower to take hold in construction than in other industries. But it is taking hold regardless, even if it is in incremental steps.

The rise in productivity will impact wellbeing, which Rendall was right to touch upon. There are many reasons for it, but the suicide rate in construction is more than three times the national average for men. Making site work more efficient, increasing collaboration and increasing company profit margins will transform jobs in construction. Let’s hope we see a decrease in the suicide rate in the years to come as a natural by-product of increasing productivity in the industry.

Kreo predicts productivity to continue growing gradually (not quickly) this decade. That’s why Kreo has broken down its products into smaller parts for 2020. Kreo's products will be like a "gateway drug" to construction technology. Once companies start using automation on smaller aspects of pre-construction planning, they'll want to apply the efficiencies to all parts of planning. 

Kreo’s summary of construction 2020

2019 was an interesting first full year for Kreo. The highs came from honest workshops with our clients, aspirational conversations at Digital Construction Week and flattering inbound requests from US companies discovering us online. The lows came from lengthy consensus buying decisions, reluctance to change traditional ways of working and lack of access to information on projects.

Construction 2020 is a futuristic concept where we will see companies starting small and subtly transforming the industry. Kreo expects to have a direct impact on all of these aspects:

  • Skills shortage in construction
  • Methods of construction
  • Living and working differently
  • The productivity problem

AEC companies and technology companies need to collaborate more closely to impact the four issues above. Construction 2020 brings optimism and futuristic thinking into unstable economic times. Kreo will work closely with its partners in 2020 to lay the foundations for construction’s digital transformation.

To give your feedback to Kreo on any of the issues above, or to request to join our next focus group this year, please get in touch.

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