Features - Business

2024 Construction predictions

2023 has been a major year for construction, bringing significant change. Most notably, legislation reform, particularly around building safety and sustainability which have been major drivers, with many businesses now adapting to new laws.

Other areas have also seen huge advancements, digital technologies and immersive tech have increased as the industry responds to the Golden Thread – and the role of data is becoming increasingly important. Each of these areas are shaping the sector’s approach to construction and influencing future business-decisions.

As we move in to 2024, what areas are expected to drive further change and what will likely become ‘hot topics’? To gain some insight, we asked business leaders from across the industry on their predictions and what they think will be the key issues of next year.

Christian Mabey, Managing Director, Optima Products commented: “In 2024 core focus will be placed on one of the building product community’s thorniest issues: virgin material consumption. Despite the endeavours of various national Governments to drive down consumption, levels remain high, resulting in more waste and higher emissions. As manufacturers, we have a social responsibility to lead the way towards overcoming this long-standing problem. A good starting point will be making a firm commitment to circular practices and encouraging others to do the same.

Yes, regulation is getting tighter, but none of us should be standing around waiting to be swept along. Significant improvements can be made by implementing small, incremental adaptations now, such as prioritising reuse or recycling over new production. Getting these approaches in place now will aid and prepare us for larger, more transformative changes down the line.”

While Adrian Attwood, Executive Director, DBR (London) Ltd, sees skills as the new crunch-point: “Investing in skills needs to become a priority for the UK construction sector, particularly in specialist professions. Niche roles from conservation stonemasons and master joiners to leadworkers, gilders, and even cleaners are at significant risk as talent pools continue to shrink. With the economy starting to stabilise and an upcoming election providing an opportunity to press the reset button on the education system, I hope that policymakers and the industry can come together to develop a deliverable strategy to overcome the acute human resource shortages we’re currently experiencing.”

Meanwhile, Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics, expects a better economic outlook for the next year: “Looking ahead to 2024, I believe we’ll see an industry that is focused on quality. There are already early indicators, requests for products that contain relevant fire and environmental third-party testing are increasing, and specifiers want assurances that products will perform, particularly in terms of fire safety.

“Beyond this, the need for proper acoustic management will be more important than ever, as hybrid working begins to phase out and employees spend more time in the office. The rise of office ‘super hubs’ will also become more prominent as businesses look to position their workforce all under one roof.

“After a tough economic year in 2023, with many businesses falling into administration over the second half of the year, I also expect a less volatile market. The green shoots of recovery are starting to take root, and SMEs that have managed to weather the storm will be in a good position come the start of the year when construction projects begin to pick up.”

Director at Perega, Steve McSorley, commented: “RAAC will remain a topical issue as more public and private verticals fall under the microscope, with prisons being the latest. It represents a challenge and opportunity for structural engineers nationwide, not only to remediate a longstanding problem, but also display technical expertise and use the latest approaches to come up with forward-thinking solutions to keep these buildings standing. Elsewhere, it will be about futureproofing the built environment. 2023 has seen the weather becoming more erratic and a sizable task will be adapting existing assets to withstand harsh elements, including increased instances of flooding and drought.”

While Rob Sizer, Director of UK Engineering, Ayesa, sees public sector projects as crucial to the industry in 2024: “There will be plenty of opportunities for infrastructure development and enhancement in 2024. Ongoing projects such as the new Thames Crossing, HS2 Phase 1, and Hinkley Point C will keep many civil engineering firms busy in the new year.

“Whilst the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2 is a temporary air pocket in the pipeline, the funds freed will likely be diverted to new work in the North, including road and rail upgrades.

“Furthermore, the Free Ports programme, acceleration of renewable energy provision, and extensive brownfield remediation point to a much-needed uptick in construction activity over the coming 12 months.”

While Alexis Potter, Managing Director, BauWatch UK envisages a tough economic climate creating tight margins for construction firms: “Research in our upcoming Cost of Crime report indicates that crime has not only increased in 2023 but six in ten people (60%) feel it has also become more sophisticated. This echoes reports in 2023 from farmers that drones and social media are now being used to “scope out” farms before vehicles and equipment are taken. When viewed in isolation, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of theft on construction sites. But costs from delays or tool replacement soon add up and this has the potential to make it harder to meet project deadlines.

“Construction projects always operate on paper-thin margins – and a small incident can have an outsized impact. With the cost of living crisis and goods inflation making construction sites more vulnerable, firms must be able to protect themselves against what’s to come.”

Sustainability will continue to be important in 2024, says Russell Haworth, CEO, NBS & Glenigan: “Sustainability will be front and centre in 2024. It’s no exaggeration to say we’re now facing the biggest crisis of our lifetimes and with construction responsible for a quarter of UK emissions, there needs to be a focus on the four Cs: climate, carbon, compliance, and cost. Linking these together will be the ever-growing need for data and transparency. As the financial system becomes more aware of climate risk and carbon costs, I predict this will push construction to become greener. Soon projects will be uninsurable and unable to secure loans without robust evidence of their green credentials.”

Collaboration and supply chains will be crucial according to Simon Herod – International Lead at EstimateOne: “The groundwork laid in 2023 for fostering collaboration within the supply chain will only gain momentum as we enter a new year. I hope to see main contractors placing a far greater emphasis on building a robust network of subcontractors. The importance of this cannot be overstated; it plays a pivotal role in addressing uncertainties that may arise. This has been particularly evident this year, with a significant increase in the number of contractor insolvencies.

“Trust will remain a cornerstone in subcontractor relationships going into 2024, underscoring the need for validation and collaboration from the get-go, particularly during the quoting stage. For main contractors, ensuring the financial stability of these partners is paramount, significantly reducing the risks associated with the competitive landscape of tendering.

“Diversifying networks will also emerge as a strategy to ensure economic resilience. Main contractors must consider connecting with a greater number of subcontractors to enable them to successfully expand their services, and venture into new sectors and regions, whilst nurturing their existing networks. This approach will bolster resilience in the face of inflation. I’m optimistic that 2024 will be characterised by increased collaboration and enhanced supply chain resilience, contributing to the industry’s ability to mitigate associated risks.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer Thomson, CPO, MachineMax, feels climate change and the aim for Net Zero is going to be the hot topic of 2024: “As we look ahead to 2024, it’s clear that the scrutiny concerning Net Zero will continue to ramp up. The construction industry has long required urgent action, and time is rapidly diminishing for it to respond appropriately and achieve set targets.

“The focus on energy consumption, especially within sectors like heavy machinery, is set to be prominent in the new year. To effectively implement solutions for emission reduction, there must be a greater emphasis on adopting a robust benchmarking approach. As the industry continues to digitise its processes, the ability to understand the emissions that are being generated and how efficiency can be improved is critical but also more readily available than ever before.

“Closer monitoring of machine metrics is one easy-to-grasp solution that should take shape, allowing companies to correctly identify operational efficiencies throughout all stages of a project – knowing how and when machines are being used can make a big difference in fuel consumption.

“We’re leaving 2023 still behind in the fight against climate change, and time is now finite. If we’re to futureproof our environment, then delivering a joined-up strategy is vital. This begins with the monitoring and management of machinery and carbon measuring frameworks.”

Finally, the Building Safety Act will be the main theme of 2024, according to Maria Hudson, CMO, Zutec: “The 1st of April 2024 will see the transition phases of the Building Safety Act (BSA) end, with its full legislative and legal weight coming into force. Whilst it will go a long way to addressing many longstanding issues around fire safety and building quality, many contractors, developers, and asset owners remain unsure about how to comply with key aspects of the regulation. To help provide more clarity, and prepare for the new regulatory landscape, best-in-class data management will be essential as the industry seeks to define a baseline building safety case, a key objective over the next 12 months as we continue to work towards de-risking the built environment.

“That’s only the start, beyond BSA, other incoming regulations, particularly around sustainability, will act as a catalyst for everyone in the supply chain to further digitise processes and get their whole-life building information in order. The good news is it’s never been easier to do so, and they can take advantage of an array of powerful technologies and solutions in the market to do this effectively and efficiently. Not only will this ensure holistic compliance, but having a complete data set to analyse will help construction businesses make more informed decisions, leading to better outcomes all-round.”

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