Outlook for the UK Construction Industry
The first half of 2020 has shown how vulnerable the construction industry is to economic disruption. After recovering from the disastrous financial crisis of 2008, the UK construction industry has recently been booming again, with iconic projects such as HS2 gaining approval to proceed, the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station progressing steadily and major road schemes in the pipeline.
The COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 resulted in an understandable and necessary shutdown of the entire country including the construction industry. This resulted in millions of UK workers being asked to stay at home and being paid by the government. Although a proportion of construction workers were able to safely continue work on priority projects, the vast majority of the UK construction workforce spent many weeks at home contemplating their own personal situation – which was not of their making.
It is widely accepted that if the UK government had not provided financial support to employers and the self-employed, the UK construction sector and wider economy would have collapsed.
As the UK economy reopens, it is pleasing to see that construction sites are progressively reopening, and many large projects are still in the pipeline. However, as the government support is phased out, many organisation are potentially faced with large staff overhead costs and a reduced revenue stream due to social distancing impacting project productivity. This is likely to lead to large scale redundancies across the construction sector in the latter part of 2020 – with some analysts predicting a redundancy rate of 11% of the workforce.
With government borrowing reaching record levels to counteract the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is inevitable that, in the near future, the UK Government, public sector spending bodies, main contractors and the supply chain will be looking for significant cost savings, efficiency gains and productivity increases.
This increased risk of redundancy, combined with day to day financial pressures and the real possibility that similar major economic disruptions could reoccur, have motivated many people to consider their own situation and how they can become less financially exposed and to be able cope with any future disruptions.
Construction Employers are searching for ways to continue to grow whilst also financially de-risking their operations and trying to do more work with fewer employees. Many Employees are now considering how they can take control of their own destiny and perhaps earn a living from multiple income streams rather than a single employer.
Employment trends have changed beyond all recognition over the last 10 year, with many industries embracing the sharing and gig economies. Although these new ways of working have been criticised for malpractice in some instances, they have also given millions of people the freedom to earn their living how they like and to fit in with their particular lifestyle. Whichever way you look at it, the sharing and gig economies are here to stay, and we should embrace them due to their potential to increase efficiency and productivity.
Freelance working is becoming more and more popular in industries such as digital marketing, IT and transport and the potential for freelance work in the UK construction industry is huge as the skill and qualification levels of construction industry workers is high and transferrable between organisations.
Although freelance working already exists in the UK construction industry, there is potential for it to significantly expand to help contractors deliver work efficiently and freelancers to earn a stable income. The key is to be able to connect clients needing the work done, with freelancers who are available.
Although there is a lot of interest in the role of agencies, professional service companies, managed service companies, umbrella companies and IR-35, the facts remain clear – there is a demand for freelance services to deliver short term tasks. If this short term work is set up and managed properly and legally then freelance work can co-exist with agency workers and employees.
The Changing Work Environment
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has shown how adaptable the Human Race is. Remote and home working – previously frowned upon in many industries – has now become the accepted norm and many people actually now prefer it. The work-life balance of working from home has many benefits including spending less time travelling, lower/zero cost of commuting and having significantly more time to spend with friends and family. Of course, there are social and mental health considerations of working from home in isolation, but many people do now prefer this way of working.
Modern technology has helped with this transition, where IT and fast broadband connections now allow most people to work from home.
This economic situation, combined with a new progressive working culture, advancing IT infrastructure and new IT tools to connect clients with freelancers now provides a perfect opportunity for the UK construction industry.
A large proportion of construction work is actually desk based and carried out by highly qualified professional staff. This includes design, engineering, site paperwork, planning, estimating and technical documentation to name but a few. These tasks can be delivered remotely from offices and even by home based staff including freelancers.
By using freelancers to deliver short term tasks, clients have the advantage of being able to pick and choose the best people who generally understand that they need to do a good job to gain more clients. Freelancers are generally highly motivated, efficient and willing to take on difficult assignments.
Up until now, it has been difficult for clients to find and engage with freelancers and difficult for freelancers to regularly find clients to maintain their income. However, with new freelancer platforms such as Shareplant Freelance (https://freelance.shareplant.com), the potential for the construction freelance industry is now huge. These platforms allow clients to post scoped tasks of any type and size and for freelancers to find and bid for them. Winning freelancers can then deliver the work in private virtual workspaces and get paid safely when the work is complete. Also, freelancers can advertise specific services to clients on these platforms.
This provides a win-win for everyone – clients can get specialist work done at lower cost without the financial risk of employing full time staff and freelancers can find regular work from a diverse range of clients and earn as much income as they like – this can be either as top up earnings in addition to a full time job or as their main source of income.
As Bob Dylan once said ‘The Times They Are A Changin’, and those who embrace the change can turn a challenging economic situation into a competitive advantage.
For more information on the Shareplant Freelance platform please visit https://freelance.shareplant.com