The construction industry: 2018 in review & what’s next for 2019?

The construction industry faced its fair share of challenges last year – from the collapse of Carillion to the uncertainty that came along with Brexit. However, Duncan Green, managing partner at property, construction and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard, has high hopes for 2019 and is confident that the industry will thrive, as more national projects are given the green light and productivity increases.

The UK construction industry

As an industry, we certainly experienced some unexpected challenges last year. We started 2018 with the collapse of Carillion and, as a result, there have been lessons learnt in the construction sector. Its liquidation cast an unstable shadow over the industry. Firms are now a lot more cautious in terms of prompt payments and only taking on secure contracts, with a strategic focus on balancing the interests of its staff, stakeholders and clients.

However, there were also positive announcements last year. On a national scale, Heathrow’s expansion was approved, the development around HS2 continued and a considerable amount of new funding was allocated to new housing across the UK. We also saw Sellafield’s nuclear industry developing further and a new prison for the Ministry of Justice announced for Wellingborough.

I was also pleased to see that the government has recognised the need to encourage more apprentices – with a new, £695 million initiative announced in the Autumn Budget last year – and I think that 2019 will be the year that we really see the skills gap start to close.

Of course, Brexit dominated the agenda last year and, in just a few months, we will be exiting the European Union – although exactly how this will happen is still somewhat unclear. We are planning to respond positively to the challenge and change it will bring. The Government and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Skills in particular will be strongly promoting UK-based skills and services, and we will want to make the best of that opportunity. Right across the firm we have a diverse workforce and we rely on skills from staff who have moved to the UK, so we are working hard to ensure they feel they will always have a future career here, whether we are in the EU or not.

Pick Everard’s 2018

2018 has been a successful year at Pick Everard and has seen the business continue to grow nationally. We’ve completed some fantastic projects across the UK. We are currently working in collaboration with clients, consultants and constructors engaged in delivering projects as part of the huge investment being made in the HS2 rail network, in the nuclear industry at Sellafield, on improving the prisons estate, and right across the country on schools and hospitals.

Support for communities and doing the right thing is something we are enthusiastic about, particularly when it comes to equal opportunities and encouraging more women into the profession. In the property, construction and infrastructure sector, just 11 per cent of the workforce is female. The industry is already held back by a skills shortage and would benefit substantially from more females developing a career in the sector. This has been a particular focus for us, from providing STEM ambassadors at schools to promoting nationally the role of women in engineering and construction.

We have made great progress with an increase in women applying for positions with us. Last year we were delighted to be bucking the national trend with over 27 per cent of our workforce being women. We’re proactively working to readdress the balance, taking actions to showcase the industry as an inclusive place to work, full of diverse opportunities and roles that some may never have even considered.

Perfect Circle – a pivotal year

Our joint ownership of Perfect Circle has been massively successful for us. The company delivers schemes via the Scape BECS (Built Environment Consultancy Framework) and, during the last two years, has secured 750 schemes and has worked with more than 220 clients.

We started the New Year with the appointment of a new managing director for Perfect Circle. Victoria Brambini has taken up her new role and brings with her an impressive amount of experience. Having previously worked as managing director of Scape Procure, Victoria fully understands the industry and how Perfect Circle can best serve its clients.

Working with local SMEs and having a strong regional presence is key to the success of Perfect Circle and we will continue that focus into 2019, driving exemplar behaviours in quality and performance.

2019 – what’s next?

Looking ahead, helping to meet the housing demand will be a top priority. It’s estimated that 340,000 extra homes are needed next year to keep up with demand and the infrastructure needed to support this programme will need to be in place.

I am sure we are all looking forward to seeing HS2 and Crossrail take shape but also how the Northern Powerhouse will further develop. The region still needs to be better connected, so I hope we will see more infrastructure projects announced in the area.

This year, we also really need to encourage further use of technology in the construction industry. Virtual reality, augmented reality, automated construction tools and developments in BIM’s capabilities have proven that technology can really answer the industry’s productivity problem. Keeping up with technological advances also makes the industry more appealing to graduates and apprentices and helps to address the skills shortage.

Brexit is fast approaching and we still have uncertainty as to the arrangements that will be in place. However, I am confident the construction industry will continue to thrive and support the country’s ambitious output and productivity targets.