People in the construction of tomorrow

Modified on March 26, 2020

The global spread of coronavirus (covid-19) has brought a huge shift in people’s behavior. Due to the global pandemic, people are out of their standard daily rhythms. There are no predictable patterns to follow. Nobody knows for sure what will follow next or can predict its full impact. But there is one thing we know for sure – it is in human nature to adapt to change.

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The coronavirus will eventually fade away but the world after it will be different. Digital capabilities and environmental awareness are among the factors to reshape the construction of tomorrow and the people in it. Digitalisation and green construction will gain more speed. They will bring new skill requirements and ultimately lead to a change in engineering and construction jobs. But they also pose an important question about the current organisational culture and working environment of the industry. The sector does not only fall behind in terms of its digital and ecological transformation compared to other industries. It is evident that it progresses too slowly in terms of creating a positive and healthy work environment. And this is about to change.

In this article, we summarise a few factors that will impact people in construction and will reshape the future workforce in the sector.

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Building the new workforce

As in all industries, the struggle to attract the right kind of people is very prominent in construction, and organisations are getting ever more competitive in acquiring qualified workers.

According to a survey by KMPG, we will see that industry leaders will be attracting and trying to retain a younger workforce to a bigger extent. The generations that have grown up with smartphones and apps, and that can experiment with new technology and learn fast from it are now available on the job market, and construction companies will tap into that skill pool. This will be a positive change as the new workforce will combine the knowledge and expertise of the ‘matured’ workers with the new vision of the fast-learning younger employees.

Bringing technology and innovation into construction projects is resulting in demand for more technically skilled workers to manage and interpret the data produced by new technology.

The leaders are also taking a more proactive approach to recruit a diverse set of workers, addressing the gender gap and hiring more women in construction. Having a diverse team will offer new perspectives that could drive innovation. It will provide a new range of experience, expertise, and working methods that can boost problem-solving capacity and lead to greater productivity.

There is a growing importance of investing in training programs, formalised mission statements, and making sure the project status is well communicated. This has been rising as a key to achieving excellence in the sector. The focus on improving communication in the construction industry now goes beyond federated BIM models and clash-detection – the future workforce in construction is getting reshaped through managerial practices that have been long overdue. All of which will result in more successful businesses that ‘think’ inclusively and globally.

But changes in the organisational culture are only a small fraction of a bigger change that is currently taking place. Coronavirus will reshape many sectors of the economy, starting from healthcare. In this sense, it will inevitably affect business culture too, underlining the importance of employee’s wellbeing and adopting measures to protect their health.

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Mental health in construction

When it comes to the health of people working in construction, the focus has always been on the physical condition of the workers. But what about their mental health? Anxiety among workers is one of the top issues brought to our attention as a result of the coronavirus. Employers in the sector have already shifted some of their focus towards considering mental health of their employees, but in 2020 this shift will become more prominent.

Among the factors causing mental health problems are the common cases that most employees face – long working hours, demanding workloads, tight deadlines. But in construction, apart from those, the lack of job security has also significant role as most of the workers are on temporary contracts. Another stress factor for construction professionals is the fact that projects are often situated far away from home and family. Furthermore, the sector is characterised by a predominantly male workforce, which creates conditions for a competitive ‘macho’ environment where workers are not used to speaking about their feelings and emotions.

Finding solutions to improve mental health in the sector is a matter that both small and large companies should consider by introducing wellbeing programs and initiatives.

Luckily, there have been some good practices from previous years that could also be applicable in the current situation. In 2019, The Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) published statistics on health and safety in UK construction. According to the report, there are 16,000 work-related cases of stress, anxiety or depression which is one-quarter of the total work-related ill health figure. As a response, the UK market has started working in this direction. The Building Mental Health (BMH) and Mates in Mind initiatives have been set up by industry experts to provide support and to increase the awareness of mental health in construction. Some forward-thinking companies such as Willmott Dixon launched “All Safe Minds”, as they recognised the importance of tackling this issue.

Such good practices on wellbeing programs will continue gaining more speed even after the covid-19 fire is extinguished.

Green construction to generate more jobs in the future

The current health crisis led to drastic measures including a sudden shift to working from home, reductions in air travel, even suspension of factories’ production processes. This caused global emissions to drop for the first time since 2009. NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. Some environmentalists are optimistic that people and the business could permanently change their attitude about the transformation needed to slow climate change.

The construction industry is a major driver of many economies but unfortunately, it is also responsible for a significant share of energy-related carbon emissions released in the atmosphere. Now with the Green Deal a reality at the European level – the transition to green and sustainable construction is an inevitable and important part of the wider transition to a global low-carbon economy.

In our previous article, we shared that among the top industry trends for 2020 is the search for efficiency. The rise of intelligent buildings that can self-optimise their operations and better serve their inhabitants is a rising trend powered by AI (Artificial Intelligence). In addition to following the future EU measures towards greener procurement process for public contracts we are expecting to see more city leaders considering smart technologies that support urban sustainability. This includes also the rising popularity of buildings assessed for their sustainability. Such are the buildings certified by BREEAM – more environmentally sustainable, enhancing the well-being of the people who live and work in them and considered as appealing for property investments.

The development of green buildings has the potential to deliver many other benefits, beyond that of carbon emission reduction. It provides opportunities for the construction sector and other businesses to offer greener technologies, materials and services required. Most importantly, environmentally friendly construction will generate numerous employment opportunities in the sector.

Green construction will generate numerous employment opportunities in the sector.

Here we can consider not only the new skills and expertise required in the emerging ‘green’ positions in the construction sector. It is about purpose-driven and environmentally conscious jobs that give the sense of fulfillment. Add this to the arising new wave of younger workforce, which usually is much more green-oriented, and you get the right formula for a better build environment with a happier working force.

Up for a better ‘tomorrow’

There used to be an assumption that each generation is better off than the one before it. This is not valid if no actions are taken to improve the status quo. And it won`t be valid for the future as well if we are not willing to learn the lessons from our previous mistakes. The current storm with covid-19 will pass and all the things eventually will settle to the next ‘new normal’. In the world of construction, this ‘new normal’ was needed even before the outbreak. The adaptability and flexibility of people (and businesses) will lead us to a better, more sustainable and greener sector, which will operate in enhanced organisational culture and will have happier and healthier workers.