THE CHANGING FACE OF THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
When questioned about the construction industry, it’s easy to picture the stereotypical muddy building site populated with bulldozers, cranes, various other heavy machinery and balding, overweight men wearing hard hats.
This archetypal vision is the result of years of stagnation when it comes to progress and change in the industry. However, over the last decade or so, this is becoming increasingly distant from the reality.
The construction sector accounts for approximately three million jobs in the UK, which forms around 10% of the country’s total employment. Currently, the industry’s output adds up to more than £110 billion per year and contributes over 7% of domestic GDP. Compare this to a mere £50 billion contribution in 1999, we can see there has been tremendous growth in the sector (Source – ONS).
As a whole, the construction industry is now one of the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and professional sectors in the UK. This is a far cry from the old adage and the stereotypes it enforces.
With world-leading apprenticeships, the latest innovative technology and a passionate drive for diversity, construction is quickly becoming the industry of choice for people of all ages, gender identities and backgrounds in the UK.
While construction sites have always used machinery and tools to complete their work, they are a different beast to what we see on-site today. These tools are supported by some of the most advanced technology and software in the world.
The emergence of applications and services that enable collaboration across projects is making a significant difference, particularly from an administrative perspective. Cloud technology in project management platforms is now widely used across the industry and ensures everyone has all the up to date information during each phase of the project. Couple this with the use of modern-day smart devices and everyone across a business can be involved and informed at every stage. This allows for more effective collaboration between companies and contractors to ensure work is carried out to the highest standard.
Innovations are also continually emerging and can provide businesses with significant benefits. An example innovation is 3D printing, which greatly improves efficiency on site during projects. In the future, we can expect to see this technology incorporated on a smaller scale, enabling companies to create equipment and tools such as jigs and fixtures on demand, reducing project lead times.
Over the coming years, due to these constant innovative updates to equipment and procedures, we can expect the industry to keep changing for the better and continue integrating more advanced STEM technology.
Traditionally, the construction industry has been dominated by males, with a gender imbalance that still exists today. However, the number of women now entering construction is quickly rising, helping to close the gap. In 1978, only 12% of the built environment workforce were women. This figure now stands at over 20%, showing us that there is a steady shift in attitudes, with more girls choosing to pursue careers in engineering and construction. (Source – ONS)
Schemes such as the government’s #notjustforboys are targeting industries that are traditionally dominated by men, construction in particular. Over 30 leading employers back this initiative and it is having a significant effect on encouraging females into the sector.
There has also been a marked emergence of industry associations aimed solely at women. Organisations such as Chicks With Bricks, Women On The Tools and Women in Science, Technology and Engineering (WISE) are giving females greater networking opportunities, access to employers, the ability to discuss the industry challenges that are unique to them and to meet people with similar interests.
This trend is set to continue as more companies are encouraging women into the industry and supporting STEM education paths. Naturally, blu-3 supports this drive and hopes to see the current gender gap become even smaller in the coming years.
Vocational training has typically been the conventional route into the construction industry. The opportunity to gain hands-on experience is a great way to get to grips with the sector. However, the number of people taking up this option has dropped by over 14% in recent time. This could have a profound effect on the industry moving forward, paving the way for what is already recognised as a workforce shortage.
The decline in entrants however has prompted action. Many businesses in the construction sector are encouraging young people to take up apprenticeships, visiting schools and colleges to speak to students about the benefits of entering the sector. The Government has also introduced higher apprenticeships which are designed to fill a range of management and supervisory roles, and it is hoped that these additional routes will encourage more young people to join the industry.
These new initiatives will also change how the traditional system of ‘working your way up from the bottom’ works, by allowing the younger generation to enter a business at a more senior level than their older counterparts, who may have been at a company for several years.
- Uncertain Times
The construction industry’s continued growth and success is subject to a number of variables. As MPs continue to war over Brexit and many large infrastructure projects such as HS2 hang in the balance, companies are now playing a delicate balancing act, trying to predict the outlook for the industry as we move further into 2019.
This uncertainty has the potential to reduce the number of new projects we see emerging as we move to the end of the year, while companies attempt to keep stability during the coming months. Despite this, construction is one of the most stable industries in modern business – development of the built environment will always be required, it’s just the timing and location that vary. It is also testament to the importance of the industry that, despite economic uncertainty and the unpredictable future of large high-profile public projects, the sector continues to contribute such a large percentage of national GDP.
While the construction sector has been perceived as a male-dominated industry that was stuck in an idle state, it is clear to see that it is moving in the right direction and changing for the better. Technological advances, as well as bridging the gender gap and encouraging more young people into the industry, are changing the face of construction as we know it. This is only set to continue, despite uncertain times, and we can expect the industry to keep evolving and adapting to modern times.