Features - Business

Turning a Trying 2020 into a Thriving 2021

Ian Batchelor, Executive Director of Construction, and Simon Yung, Head of New Homes at ODS discuss their learnings from 2020 and what the future holds for the construction industry

2020 has been a challenging yet eye-opening year for the construction industry. We witnessed a record monthly output growth of 21.8% in June 2020 despite the impact of COVID-19, which then slowed to 3.0% in August.[1] The pandemic delayed £26 billion worth of projects in the UK at the start of the first lockdown in March, and more than 83,000 employees in the industry have lost their jobs. This has meant companies have needed to furlough employees, provide extra support and find new ways of working, including COVID-secure working practices.

A new way of thinking about construction is needed for 2021. The industry is one of the few permitted to continue working through lockdown, however it must adapt to the current situation and evolve it approach as the new year dawns. It has already started to make important changes, such as supplying workers with sufficient PPE, arranging bubbles and scheduling staggered break times, which are all steps in the right direction.

Whilst a new vaccine has just been approved for use in the UK, we can take what we have learnt this year and use it to improve. Changes made in the construction sector today will enable new efficiencies to be created tomorrow.

A brighter 2021

While 2020 has been difficult for everyone, we’ve all undoubtedly learnt a great deal from the challenges faced. We have also mastered how to work more efficiently and to become more creative in a predominantly on-site industry which, when everything is running smoothly, operates without pauses.

The pandemic will likely prompt several significant changes in 2021, benefitting the public, environment and construction industry professionals. These include: high-quality, energy efficient new builds and renovations, the proliferation of modular construction, and re-investment in apprenticeships.

Enhanced private and social housing

The pandemic has had an effect on housing in more ways than one. In addition to issues such as an increase in housing costs, mental and physical health have been greatly impacted by having to stay indoors for long periods of time. This means that, in 2021, there is likely to be a greater focus on more spacious, energy efficient housing, to avoid overcrowding as well as any negative effects caused by the outside environment. Further, working from home is creating demand for residences in more rural locations, as people escape to the suburbs for more space, scenic views and fresh air.[2]

Energy efficient housing can deliver healthy temperatures and humidity levels, reduced noise levels and improved air quality. As part of our commitment to help create a zero-carbon Oxford, we’re currently building zero-carbon social homes. Due to finish in spring 2021, an independent consultant has indicated the development is likely to achieve a 100 A or 99 A energy efficiency rating in their Energy Performance Certifications; the highest possible scores for energy efficiency. The homes will be suitable for the elderly and disabled, with hallways that are large enough for wheelchairs to pass through, entranceways with wheelchair charging points and wet room bathrooms.

More modular construction

Modular construction has been a hotly debated topic in the industry. But with MMC champion, Mark Farmer, calling on the government to build 75,000 modular homes a year, we will likely see greater adoption of this approach. With the world’s tallest modular building having been completed at the end of last year in London, and with more than £223 million of loans from the Home Building Fund agreed for projects using MMC, it’s clear  modular construction is the way forward.

ODS has already begun implementing MMC into its construction mix. Using the ‘Oxford model’, where the community is considered in all business decisions, of modular construction, we have largely built our zero-carbon homes off site before installation. This approach allows projects to be completed up to 50% faster than those built traditionally, and also allows us to be kinder to the community by reducing the amount of noise, dirt and pollution produced by large construction vehicles and machines. We also recently erected sports changing facilities and a community space for a local football club using modular construction. This minimised the impact on local residents and the site itself, and kept build times to a minimum.


Existing apprenticeships have been paused in the construction industry, and a number of businesses have found the Government’s current apprenticeship scheme to be confusing. This has posed a major problem for the industry’s future, particularly due to the effect Brexit may soon have on the number of EU nationals working in construction in the UK.[3]

The good news is the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has confirmed, under its new proposals recently submitted to the Government, thousands of construction SMEs will not have to pay a levy for 2021-22 and will still be able to claim CITB grants for their training and skills development.[4]

This will hopefully allow companies to re-focus on recruiting school leavers and other young people to the construction industry, and help them to get back on their feet in the new year. At ODS, we plan to continue offering work placements in joinery and construction apprenticeships.

Looking ahead

Construction performance has not been uniform this year, and companies across the country need to mobilise to ensure the problems which arose in 2020 are addressed, giving the industry an opportunity to thrive.

With new, greener methods of construction becoming increasingly popular and renewed hope for younger generations entering the sector, 2021 has the chance to become a year of recovery, change, and especially, innovation.

At ODS, ‘doing good business’ is our core purpose and this will shape our construction strategy looking ahead, with a major focus on sustainable social housing and carbon-efficient construction techniques. As always, every decision will be made with our employees, customers, suppliers, community and the environment in mind. Hopefully, the lessons learned from 2020, and ongoing support while adjusting to a ‘new normal’ will make things easier for our teams, and the construction industry as a whole in the coming months.

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[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/constructionindustry/bulletins/constructionoutputingreatbritain/august2020

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/nov/03/uk-country-house-prices-hit-four-year-high-in-race-for-space

[3] https://www.changerecruitmentgroup.com/knowledge-centre/how-brexit-will-impact-the-construction-industry-workforce

[4] https://www.citb.co.uk/about-citb/news-events-and-blogs/uk/2020/09/thousands-more-smes-set-to-pay-no-citb-levy-for-2021-citb-confirms-halving-of-levy-rates/