If we hold fast we’ll look back on 2020 not just as a year of crisis, says Keith Waller

For the second time in just six months, as a sector and as a nation, we are facing into dark clouds of uncertainty. Rising infection rates have resulted in a new raft of stricter social distancing measures and the prospect of further local lockdowns. Construction firms and their employees right across the UK are undoubtedly experiencing those same feelings of angst that we all hoped might have passed.

Government has been once again responded swiftly with measures to protect business and jobs in our already battered and brittle economy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economy Plan, which includes the new Jobs Support Scheme, will offer some solace to building firms facing potential disruption to projects both those currently in construction and those in their future pipleine.


Preparing construction for the “new normal

When we consider the major impact that covid-19 has had on our sector, it is clear that construction, along with many other sectors of the economy will be irrevocably changed. The “new normal” will be anything but normal. The aftershocks of covid-19 may well be with us for years to come, with digitally enabled new ways of working becoming the norm and working practices which we used to take for granted becoming redundant. 

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Faced with this reality - construction needs to change - and change quickly. This is not simply because of covid-19. The policy environment is changing, with a greater focus on whole life value, building safety, net zero, manufacturing solutions, social impact and a shift towards greater digitalisation. A growing community in the digital world is shifting the thinking beyond simply tools to help design and build, but increasingly how to operate and integrate as well. All of those will be wrapped in a ‘golden thread’ to assure safety and compliance to give greater confidence to funders, owners and society that our built environment is safe.

Building a movement for change

It isn’t enough however for construction to simply prepare for the ‘new normal’; we must work together and proactively shape what it looks like. This will require a collective determination and a commonality of purpose like we’ve never seen before in our sector. I’ve no doubt however that we can do it. Let me explain why. As the Construction Innovation Hub has accelerated its programme in recent months, we’ve seen an unmistakable and swiftly growing consensus around the need for fundamental change. We have seen a strong interest in, and demand for, flagship Hub initiatives like our Value Toolkit and our Platform Design Programme.

Our day to day conversations with businesses from all corners of the construction sector reveal an almost unanimous view that a return to the wasteful, inefficient practices of old is simply not an option in the post-covid-19 world. In fact, such is the level of enthusiasm that we are seeing from industry, I would say with some confidence, that the Hub is no longer ‘self-delivering’; we are now well and truly co-delivering alongside industry. We are already planning beyond the R&D part of our programme and moving towards deployment and diffusion - embedding this transformed way of working into the next wave of projects and programmes.

It feels as though we are seeing the emergence of a genuine ‘movement for change’ in construction and that fills me with a real sense of excitement.

Staying the course

The past few months have been bruising for our sector, with projects put on ice and many talented people put on furlough or facing redundancy. But what we’ve also seen this year is a resolute determination to weather this storm together, seen most clearly in the ambitious CLC Roadmap to Recovery.

If we can manage to hold firm with that sense of collective determination and channel it into the movement for change, then we’ll look back on 2020 not just as a year of crisis, but the year when construction finally embarked in earnest on its long overdue transformation.

Keith Waller is the programme director at the Construction Innovation Hub