Features - Business

Willmott Dixon 2020 Construction Round Up

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a remarkable year which has brought with it numerous challenges – but also the opportunity to reflect and innovate as we look to move forwards and out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nick Gibb from the national contractor Willmott Dixon discusses what we have learnt this year and considers what might come from 2021.

He said: “The construction industry is hugely important to the UK economy and, as such, we were one of the sectors that was encouraged to keep working, even when the rest of the country was forced into full lockdown back in March. That in itself brought with it numerous challenges that everyone operating within the sector was forced to adapt to very quickly.

“Almost overnight, swathes of people across the UK were told to stay at home – including significant numbers of those non-site-based workers within the construction industry. As a business we had already invested in our technology and training so the transition for our teams was easy but everyone was forced to adapt very quickly. On-site teams were also asked to understand and observe new health and safety guidance to help keep our teams, visitors and partners safe on site and stop the spread of the virus.

“This is one of the real positives to come my opinion; we are more agile as an industry than ever before and have been able to flex quickly and effectively to meet changing government guidelines whether that be on-site or our office-based teams. We have all learned a great deal during the last few months which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the industry moving forwards.

“Surprisingly perhaps, as a business, we have seen productivity on site rise overall. We didn’t incur any major project delays and, in some cases, actually accelerated progress on-site, which is incredibly positive and a result of really careful planning and the need for a real focus on logistics.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have embedded the Government-backed Construction Leadership Council Site Operating Procedures at all of our sites across England and Wales.  Through implementing these safe working practices, as well as the endeavor of our site teams and embrace of technology, we have been able to keep 100% of our sites operational, supporting critical supply chains and the local economy at a time where it has been needed most.

“That being said, we have definitely noticed a shift for certain sectors with larger programmes particularly within the higher education and commercial sectors being paused by customers. Elsewhere, we have seen customer priorities changing in response to the pandemic and have needed to adapt quickly and focus on really being consultative and support customers. For example, we are now seeing increased emphasis being placed on offsite and modular construction products – which may create a challenge in itself as capacity becomes problematic.

“This focus on communication and collaboration is incredibly important. Communication is at the heart of success for any business and it is the cause of the most distress and disconnects, so it is hugely valuable to invest time into communicating effectively both internally and within a project team. Being open and objective is vital, interrogating what we are doing and prioritising accordingly.”

Moving into 2021

“We are expecting to see a relatively slow start to the year but as the pandemic hopefully eases with the roll out of a vaccine and things starting to return to something more like the world pre-COVID, we project some acceleration towards the back end of the year.

“Housebuilding continues to be priority for government with a focus on ‘building back better’ and delivering much-needed homes across the UK. The National Infrastructure Strategy also places infrastructure at the heart of the recovery and levelling up agenda so that will also be a hugely important sector.

“I think we will also see science and tech projects and the health sector coming forwards as well as the education commitment outlined earlier in the year. But 2021 will be a year of re-stabilising; getting society back to some sort of normality and stimulating the economic recovery with a view to recording growth again into 2022.

“As an industry, we may well see fair pricing and competition become challenges. Challenging times can see over-optimistic pricing enter the marketplace which presents issues throughout the industry – especially as we are expecting to see economic growth in a relatively short space of time. It’s important that we don’t fall into the trap and create issues moving forwards.

“More than ever, it will be important to work in collaboration with our customers to understand their issues, opportunities and any new ways of working that have come into play over the last few months. At Willmott Dixon, we are passionate about acting as a consultant and trusted adviser for our customers, working alongside them to deliver the very best outcomes. This will drive innovation and improvements across the industry and will allow us to bring key schemes forwards, despite the obvious challenges we are facing.”

If you would like to read more like this, then please click here