After Covid-19: Engineering & Construction
In the fourth and final of a series of sector-specific blogs, we look at the impact of Covid-19 on the engineering and construction sector, and what the future might hold for businesses operating in this area.
It is no secret that the engineering & construction sector has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. For a large proportion of the year, many of these businesses were unable to operate at all, and are now facing an uncertain future with cancelled projects, shortages of materials, and the challenges of operating within the confines of social distancing measures. 34% of workers in this sector are required to work in close proximity, compared to a UK average of 26%, and only 42% can work from home (PWC), which presents significant challenges moving forward.
The main issue for the sector in recent months has of course been lack of demand, with projects being paused temporarily or indefinitely, or cancelled outright. Due to the economic damage caused by the pandemic, this problem is expected to persist for many years into the future, with much less hope of a quick bounce-back than in some other sectors. Compounding this is the fact that governments, councils, and private sector companies will now be questioning the need for new buildings, as the UK pivots towards a more home-based, domestic work and leisure lifestyle. We may see fewer build projects in retail and hospitality, and definitely far fewer office premises projects, as a result of this combination of lack of funding and changes in working practices. This will mean that many companies may pivot to focus on retrofitting rather than new builds, particularly during the short term future as businesses who do need to retain their office space look to make it safer for their workers, and retailers convert their premises to provide more storage to meet online order demands.
One of the success stories for this sector during the pandemic is the NHS Nightingale project, which showed how the use of modular design and unconventional materials can be employed to deliver construction on a tight turnaround – with the largest of the hospitals being built in just nine days! The lessons learned from this project may help businesses to operate under any long term social distancing rules, in that they can adopt practices which require fewer workers on site for less time. In particular the use of automation and shift working will be key to making this change, and PWC predicts that shift working will now become standard practice for construction.
Another opportunity for the sector is the demand for ultra-high-speed internet access, which is something that people have always wanted in their homes, but that has now become imperative now that homes are also functioning as workplaces. Businesses who provide installation of internet infrastructure should see an upturn in demand across the UK.