A recent report by the World Economic Forum stated that four megatrends are shaping the construction industry:
Changes in the market and customer demand
Sustainability and material resilience issues
Society and workforce changes
Politics and regulations
The report gave several suggestions for construction companies, the industry as a whole, and governments to keep the industry viable in the future. Here are ten things that construction companies should do if they want to survive in the new market:
1. Invest in Advanced Building Materials
Whether they are improvements to old standards, such as fast-curing concrete, or derived from nature, like new super-repellent materials based on a plant, new building materials are coming on the market constantly. There should be a huge demand for these innovative products, but they seem to be hampered by lack of familiarity, high initial cost, and a reluctance from design professionals to recommend these untested products.
Manufacturers, construction companies, and design professionals need to collaborate and work on improving education about and testing of new materials. Together they can bring these advanced building materials to the market faster and with greater success, saving time, money, and the environment.
2. Encourage Standardization, Modularization, and Use of Prefabricated Components
Through standardization of materials and their sizes, and the use of modular and prefabricated structure elements, build time and costs can be reduced significantly. Buildings could go up in days, instead of months. Productivity would go up, less material would be wasted, and safety would be improved.
The demand for one-size-fits-one structures and the problems with transporting the components often discourage the use of modular and prefab structures. When offered with education about the versatility of these types of buildings, and when discussed early in a project, projects built with these components can look very unique and be of almost any size and shape.
3. Adopt New Technology
Construction is notoriously slow at adopting new technology and bringing it to the jobsite effectively. Use of 3-D printing, for example, has been slow to get started, even though the technology has been around for a few years.
Some of the concerns about 3-D printing include its size limitations, speed, and cost. However, the technology can offset that with its ability to create shapes and components that can’t be created in any other way. As the technology improves, it will provide an increase in productivity (up to 80% some say), shorten project timelines, and reduce costs.
4. Design Buildings with the End in Mind
Operation and maintenance costs can be 40-80% of a building’s total cost over its lifetime. Construction costs are only 10-50%. Decisions made early can significantly reduce both the cost of the building and the cost of maintenance and upkeep. It is suggested that contractors, suppliers, and maintenance personnel be included in design decisions from as early a stage as possible, so they can provide advice on construction processes and potential maintenance issues.
5. Share Risk
Instead of the standard design-bid-build process, where everyone points their finger at the other guy when issues come up, use alternative contract methods to share the risks among the parties.
Contracting models such as design-build and early contractor involvement allow everyone to work together to reach a common goal, and engender collaboration and teamwork among the parties. Often contractors or suppliers can offer innovative solutions to problems, so they can become a real asset when added early to a project.
6. Learn from Your Mistakes, and Your Successes
Sharing lessons learned from projects with the entire company allows everyone to benefit from the experience. Too many companies go from project to project, wiping their sweaty brow after a real doozy, and hope that it never happens again. Progressive companies take the time to share what they learned with everyone and develop ways to avoid danger in the future. Similarly, successes should be celebrated by the entire company, and the knowledge shared with everyone.
7. Think Long-Term
When looking at the cost of a project, look at long-term lifecycle performance. Design and construction costs are only the tip of the iceberg when you look at the 30-year life of a building. Utilities and maintenance costs are going to be important items to minimize. Encourage clients to look at the long-term effects of design decisions made today.
Sustainability and green building should be part of every construction company’s corporate culture and integrated into every project, not just as an add-on if the money is there. When looked at over time, the costs associated with durable and natural products are lower than their flashier, cheaper cousins. Construction companies should also look at their own processes and internal purchases for ways to be more sustainable.
8. Go International
With our world ever-shrinking, it is becoming more important for companies to think globally, not just locally. Through partnerships and acquisitions, companies need to expand their markets beyond their own backyards. Developing countries are becoming the next great market for our services.
This is not to say that local knowledge isn’t important, because it is, especially in construction. The connections made with the authorities having jurisdiction can be priceless. But when partnered with a large firm with more resources and better processes, that local connection becomes even more powerful.
9. Change Recruiting and Hiring Practices
Everyone knows that young skilled labor is hard to find these days. The construction industry is aging out, quickly, and if we don’t find some manpower soon, the building will come to a halt.
Companies need to look beyond their immediate needs and begin to plan for the future. Partnering with training programs or universities to get candidates as they graduate can be a way to tap into a hidden labor pool. Also, women can be a great addition to a team when their strengths are used effectively.
Overall, the industry needs to promote the benefits of working in the industry. Technology is going to play a big part in construction in the future, as well as today, so we need people with experience using it to push the bounds even further.
10. Train Better
Investing in training programs for all employees is a win-win; the company gains workers with new skills, and the employee furthers his or her knowledge and works their way up the ladder. This is one way companies can fulfill their recruiting needs, if they are planning far enough ahead.
There are lots of subjects that workers can be trained on, either through classroom training or e-learning: technology, processes, new products, regulatory requirements, safety and health, leadership, project management, lean construction, BIM, etc.