Six or seven months ago back in February 2020, this would have been a simple binary question asking whether you work in a construction industry job based on site, or work in a site office or in a regional or head office. Now that Covid-19 is changing our way of life it’s a much more complex issue. Here’s why.
Construction Sectors are Both Shrinking and Growing
The reality is that the construction industry in the UK and internationally around the world is restructuring quickly in response to both the growth opportunities in some sectors and the sudden contraction in others. Sectors such as data centres, social housing and rail and road infrastructure are set to grow at a faster rate, while sectors already facing dramatic decline include some international and regional airports deciding (or having to) significantly reduce capital expenditure in the short to medium term. However, there are exceptions even to this trend such as the example of Hong Kong International Airport pushing forward with expansion plans. We have had a vibrant Maxim Recruitment office in Hong Kong since 2010 and are very well placed to help suitable candidates into roles on exciting construction projects such as these in the Hong Kong and Asia region with a range of employers in the aviation sector. In addition, there have recently been new rules applied to Experts travelling to Hong Kong to work on Arbitral Proceedings which make it a lot easier for Maxim to find Delay and Quantum and Expert Witness assignments for those seeking additional assignments.
Redundancy & Unemployment
The truth is that it is likely that construction industry unemployment is growing, and will grow further as the furlough scheme in the UK winds down. 2021 could be a tough year for the construction sector and for construction recruitment both in the UK, Middle East and in some parts of Asia. However, being aware of your own employment situation, being aware and open minded to new opportunities and getting your hat in the ring for them by applying for suitable jobs that are a safe bet or a step up is an important first step to keeping your own best interests in mind.
Also, looking at upskilling, retraining and gaining additional professional qualifications such as PMP, MRICS, ACIArb, or a construction law qualification or similar may well add to your employability. This can be done full time, part time or while in between jobs.
It is a painful truth that some furloughed jobs are not going to be live jobs again or secure jobs even if they do restart. I am not an employment lawyer, but if you are still on furlough, it is surely worth working out what period of consultation for redundancy your size of employer is duty bound to work to. If you have a good relationship with your line manager and/or the ‘big’ boss, it is surely worth having a frank conversation about the future and where you fit in it (or not). Some of the best companies will have some very difficult decisions to make about the future and staffing levels for sure, but the most solid and trustworthy companies, and companies for whom employees have worked with for many years, are surely likely to treat their staff with the most honesty, transparency and decency? If you don’t work for one of them currently, you may want to consider your options?
It is also worth saying that if you know you are hanging on to a fading job, it may be worth proactively moving on before there is greater competition for fewer live jobs in the market in the coming months?
Lower Construction Site Productivity
One of a number of themes we have covered in recent blogs is that while Covid regulations are in force in relation to social distancing and other new health and safety measures are in force, site productivity is likely to be lower. This is likely to have a number of effects including fewer people being needed on site at one time, possibly meaning redundancies. It can also mean new jobs within health and safety enforcement – and possibly additional roles for Quantity Surveyors, Planners and others to be documenting delays and complications on site. It might also lead to lower margins and profitability, and therefore less room for manoeuvre with staff and head office costs and overheads as Juan Saez, Director of Accuracy in Dubai lucidly outlines in one of our other blogs this month.
Greater Construction ‘Head Office’ Efficiency
But, is it all bad news in terms of higher costs and greater inefficiency and increased cash flow problems? Some clients are telling us that the current need and ongoing preference for working from home is a positive in that it is increasing business efficiency. This is reportedly coming from saving time from not having to travel or commute to the office or to construction site or supply chain meetings that can instead be held online using Teams, Zoom etc. As we mentioned last month in our blog, the move from ABW or Activity Based Working to EBW or Experience Based Working is a good thing for employers, employees and the efficiency and productivity of the construction industry as a whole.
But hang on a minute. When you listen to the armchair-pundit-philosophers telling us that Covid is the start of a brave new world and of the future now, like perhaps the Futurists did in the early 20th Century, do you get just a tiny bit cynical or suspicious? Assuming you have a job, and have one that can be done from home, do you actually want to do it from home – and forever more? Some people do, and others definitely don’t!
The best employers we are working with, particularly in the higher end of construction dispute resolution jobs, construction claims and the construction expert witness sector have already or are in the process of surveying their staff to ask whether they want to work at home, come back to the office to work or to have a structured or flexible blend of both. They can then finish implementing Covid-Secure space planning in the office and organisational arrangements that keep teams or divisions separate and utilise available office space to maximum effect.
Sure, companies may need less space in the future but I personally don’t see London ceasing to be one of the biggest business centres in the world and remaining the focus for construction arbitration and dispute work. This opinion piece in The Guardian from June 2020 sums things up in a reasonably witty way; while your dog may be happy with you at home, it will take a monumental culture change and brilliant management, for the construction industry to cease to need offices and regular face to face working and office-based interaction and contact.
So, when all is said and done, do you still have an office based job in construction? On a number of levels, let’s wait and see.