Did UK construction win or lose in 2021?
It was a year that started optimistically for construction. Output was up, vaccine rollouts were promising a swift end to the pandemic and Brexit was mostly finalised. But a few months in, while output continued to climb, other challenges started to surface – supply shortages, labour shortages and rising costs of both. 2021 was not going to be an easier year after all. But then again, it rarely is.
For the most part, the SME’s bore the brunt of most of the shortages and price hikes while tier one main contractors seemed to shrug them off and focus instead on the major frameworks they were winning. While there were still some well-established firms falling into administration, most employees were snapped up through mergers and acquisitions. On the positive side, the demand for labour remained high and has shown little sign of slowing down. Another significant shift has been towards greener construction practices. This has, in part, been urged on by the implementation of legislation and bidding terms and conditions. Still it’s a step in the right direction.
Three big wins for construction
What’s really encouraging is the innovation that is taking place in construction and the supply chain. The need for cleaner and more sustainable solutions for materials and construction machinery is driving an acceleration in innovation. For example: Hydrogen powered construction vehicles are predicted to become mainstream within two to three years. Greater awareness of circular economy principles and a better understanding of what’s needed to achieve net-zero goals are also driving demand, giving innovators confidence that their efforts won’t be in vain.
Collaboration and sharing information is not something that comes naturally to the construction industry. Yet on major projects such as HS2, main contractors are making a deliberate effort to share the outcomes of pilot projects in the hope that’ll it’ll spur greater adoption of new technologies and innovations. This type of industry wide collaboration can only help construction improve growth and knowledge.
Circular roadmaps may have been spurred on the desire to remain eligible for major frameworks, but in the process it’s creating a broader awareness that things need to change in construction. As this expands within the industry it can make a significant contribution to achieving the UK’s ambitious net-zero goals.
Despite the challenges of 2021, it’s encouraging to see these changes unfold. What will 2022 hold and how can the construction industry continue to improve?