The fifth Voices in Construction Insight Panel, held by BCM Agency on 23rd November 2023, saw us join a panel of five construction industry specialists to reflect on the complexity of the issues facing the industry as a whole.
It was a fascinating, if often sobering, session, highlighting many challenges that go deeper than the industry itself. But there was also optimism - and we hope to have captured some of that too in our brief rundown of the session below.
Construction market issues – the first casualty is confidence
“Nervous – that’s how I’d describe the construction sector at the moment.”
These words from Sushil Patel, representing a global partner in property and construction, in the opening minutes of the session, hinted at challenges that are not only grave, but complex and multifaceted.
Research cited in the session certainly bore these views out. In the construction industry media, the challenges have been enumerated as all of the following:
“Costs (materials, labour, energy, lending and insurance); materials shortages and delays; labour shortages, the skills gap and competition for good talent; slowing project volumes; increased responsibility to design and deliver projects in a sustainable way; the expansion of Ultra Low Emission Zones for London and possibly elsewhere; and numerous reforms and increased regulations around building safety and planning law.”
It’s a maelstrom of hurdles in a matrix of headaches, combining the long-term and the short-term, the macroeconomic and the geopolitical, the logistical and the societal – and nothing kills confidence like an obstacle at every turn.
Brexit, supply chain, recession
For Mark Hipwell, Head of Sales, Northern Europe, at German flooring manufacturer wineo, his international business is facing up to multiple and repeated challenges.
“These include the increased costs and administrative overheads associated with Brexit,” he said, “as well as shortages of the Ukraine-sourced natural oils used in some of wineo’s products.”
At the same time, Mark indicated that the effects of inflation in Germany - a country now officially in the throes of a recession -are being felt on many fronts, with specifiers, architects, designers, and end-clients often gravitating towards wineo’s cheaper alternatives to their premium offerings.
Sustainability – at what cost?
Sarah Hughes, Sales and Marketing Director at Cambridgeshire drainage and access product manufacturer Clark-Drain, told the panel she is seeing a similar effect on overall demand for sustainable products as Mark Hipwell.
The company, which has led the field in developing recycled and recyclable drainage channels, access covers, and other hardware essential to every construction project, is now seeing demand switch in many instances from sustainable to lower-price conventional products, as contractors “watch every penny.”
A skills shortage made worse by rule changes
For Rachel Legood, Senior Marketer at Hertfordshire Building Control, one of the greatest challenges facing the construction sector at the moment is the ever-dwindling number of surveyors coming into the profession to sign off the buildings that have been built!
But whilst this is one of the issues facing construction that arguably has deeper educational and societal causes, it’s also one that’s been turned into a vicious pincer movement by new regulation and legislation.
Rachel explained that additional competence validation assessments for building control surveyors to enable them to become registered building inspectors for the new framework has led many older surveyors to reevaluate whether it’s worth the effort, at their time of life, to jump through the necessary hoops – and many are, consequently, taking early retirement.
Are some conversations moving away from price?
But at the same time, here at Green Building Design, we’re seeing undercurrents of positive change. In a market that is still regarded as “niche” – sustainable construction – and in the face of all the other challenges the sector is beset by, our business has just reported its best year yet.
Is this light at the end of the tunnel? It could be. Because even if construction sector customers are seemingly seeking out every opportunity to push back on price – sustainability included - it suggests that, at some level, there is support in the market for construction practices that are the right choices despite the fact that they may cost more.
The effects of this will be felt far beyond sustainability. Construction customers signalling that they are moving away from doing things “on the cheap” will ultimately be good for construction disciplines and activities across the sector.
Share of voice: the key to survival?
Interestingly, what emerged in all the conversations during the session was that, in a downturn, maintaining share of voice is critical to ensuring the business is still there when the downturn passes – and for this, effective marketing is critical.
For our part, for example, we’ve been able to strongly position Green Building Design, through timely and relevant content and social media, as experts in modelling, designing, and installing sustainable electrical and mechanical technologies - rather than merely as fitters.
Marketing has also given us a platform from which to highlight the now much-shortened payback time of green technologies, challenge widely held misconceptions on cost, and both critique and support Government policy, as appropriate.
Get in touch to find out more about how we can help you achieve energy-efficiency and lower carbon emissions for your buildings to ensure a cost-effective transition to net-zero.