The world changed drastically in 2020, and with it, the forecasts for 2021 in the commercial construction industry. We see some changes with industry growth and worker shortages, but it’s not all gloom and doom. The new year brings positive things to look forward to, including building a cleaner, greener, and more diverse workplace.
As commercial general contractors, we’ve kept a close eye on what’s to come this next year in the construction industry. Here are some construction trends to watch for in 2021 we’ve gathered in our research:
Commercial construction could slow
The commercial construction industry started to slow down a little before the pandemic. According to a GlobalData report, the Canadian construction industry showed minimal growth in the years leading to 2020. The report states this decline is due to the slowdown in residential construction and repair, engineering, and other construction activities. Between 2014 and 2018, the industry saw negative growth with a rate of -0.29%.
However, industrial construction has forecasted growth. This growth is mainly due to the government’s focus on producing steel, aluminum, and other manufacturing materials to increase exports. In March 2019, the government invested $100 million to support manufacturers.
Government investments can help
The government’s Investing in Canada Plan aims to invest $180 billion in key infrastructure sectors over the next seven years. The government has also announced its plans to improve local energy resources and financially support such projects. This investment should provide more jobs, boost the economy, and fuel growth in the construction industry.
The Federal Prompt Payment begins
The Federal Prompt Payment for Construction Work Act was announced in April 2019, and, hopefully, it launches this year. This legislation will improve construction projects’ execution for any federal property by helping contractors and sub-contractors receive prompt payment for their services on these projects. The act entitles commercial general contractors timely payment on undisputed invoices without delay. This legislation is a good thing!
A focus on building green
Despite all the negativity COVID-19 brought to many industries, the renewable sector flourished in 2020. The government and private sector will continue to invest in sustainable, green building projects in 2021. Building projects will have designs that focus on energy efficiency, sustainability, and eco-friendly building materials and processes.
This trend extends past the commercial building sector. The government plans to invest in building more sustainable infrastructure in urban areas. This investment and trend will be better for the planet, and it could stimulate the economy, which is beneficial to all industries.
The trend of recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce has been gaining speed. The movement expects to continue to do so in the year to come. Companies in the construction industry have made efforts to appeal to a greater diversity of qualified workers, including people with disabilities, newcomers to Canada, youth, and workers from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. On a government level, initiatives to support women in pursuing careers in conventionally male-dominated construction roles have also contributed to workplace diversity.
Creating workplace diversity also impacts building design. For example, to create an accessible workplace, designers must create building plans that could accommodate people with mobility issues and those who might need assistive equipment like a wheelchair or walker. That means wider hallways and doorways, spacious bathrooms, and accessible entries, and emergency exits.
Embracing digital transformation
How we use technology has dramatically transformed the commercial construction industry. There are no signs of digital transformation slowing down in 2021. The construction industry must use and adapt to new ways of doing things in all stages of commercial building projects.
The way builders create drawings for projects, the number of design options, and improving building efficiencies will all be done using digital technology – if they are not already. Collecting and using data will allow engineers and builders to learn from previous projects and optimize their processes. With advanced technology being more widely available, small scale commercial building companies will have the same advantage as large-scale firms. Access to technology and performance data gives companies more options. If companies in the industry embrance digital transformation, it can allow growth and a better end-product for customers.
A focus on hygiene on the job
While COVID-19 has ravaged our economy and many industries, it has changed how we look at hygiene on job sites. Anyone in the construction industry can testify to unhygienic bathrooms on the job site in the past. Fortunately, that has changed now. A focus on bathroom cleanliness and sanitation and hand hygiene for workers have made a cleaner workplace for everyone. Even post-COVID, these hygiene practices will stay and reduce the spread of other germs, including the common cold or seasonal flu.
Fewer office buildings and changing workspaces
Many companies have adapted to a remote workforce, with mandatory work-from-home orders issued nationwide throughout the pandemic. Many people suspect that many offices will not go back to the traditional way of working. A remote workforce is cost-effective, sustainable, and eco-friendly. As 2020 marched on, fewer companies were choosing to keep their lease on their office spaces.
Nothing is for sure, but it might show a slowdown for constructing commercial office buildings in 2021.
Alternatively, we might see a change on commercial building design. For example, a building will need more square footage per office worker to accommodate public health and safety measures like physical distancing. These changes could mean that a smaller company would require much more space than they did in the past. If that is, they resume as an in-office workforce.
Dealing with workforce shortages
The construction industry is one of the sectors facing a shortage of workers. According to this survey, nearly 50% of construction firms said they found it challenging to hire new workers over the last year. These numbers might seem surprising since so many have found themselves out of work because of the economic downturn.
The issue seems to be that not enough young people are choosing a career in the construction industry. To counter that, older people in the industry are retiring at a quicker rate. About 21% of the workforce is expected to retire in the next ten years, according to BuildForce Canada. That’s a lot of people retiring! The same study shows that our industry will need to find 322,000 new workers in the next three years to keep up the pace.
There are significant changes on the horizon. The commercial construction industry is rapidly changing, and keeping up-to-date with these changes can help us adapt and grow. The positive changes, like sustainable buildings and adapting to new technologies, are something we can look forward to.
If you like what you read here, check out our other blog posts, including Steps in Building a Commercial Building.