The UK was in the biggest construction boom of the modern era, but the unprecedented international crisis of COVID-19 will have an unavoidable and catastrophic global impact.
In 2018, the construction industry contributed £117 billion to the UK economy, 6% of the total. There are 2.4 million construction industry jobs in the UK (in Q2 2019) 6.6% of all jobs. There are more construction professions now than at any time since 2007. The construction industry is unusual because of the high proportion of self-employment in the sector – (36% in Q2 2019, compared to the average for the whole economy of 13%) and this is the market most at risk.
Due to rapid acceleration of COVID-19, we are seeing more sites and projects temporarily slow down or close. The danger of a shuddering and potentially instantaneous halt to the cogs of the industry is becoming ever more apparent.
It is good to see social media and online internet construction groups taking to the streets to interview construction workers for their thoughts and feelings. The results show mixed reactions to the pandemic itself; more workers are worried about losing a week’s wage than contracting the virus. The main fears are over the very common biometric finger-print recognition systems, which can be used by up to 500+ operatives daily and an obvious concern with so many different people in one area.
Across the industry, there has been support from the main industry bodies such as the Chartered Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Chartered Institute of Building and the Construction Industry Training Board. Build UK and the Civil Engineering Contractors Association called for ministers to provide additional support to the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Priorities and updates can be found on the Construction Enquirer.
But in this turbulent time, let’s remind ourselves of the positives. In 2020, the health, safety and welfare of construction site workers is at a point of dramatic improvement, which is an excellent achievement to the development of what is still a dangerous industry. Once the current situation has passed, there will be amendments to health and safety policies to take viral outbreaks and pandemics into much higher consideration in the future.
We as an industry are always learning and looking for ways to better ourselves and this shows within the more corporate approach to the way the construction industry is managed today. We can take a lot from this dreadful situation and come back stronger and better than before. Construction is and always has been a ‘dirty job, but if everyone acts responsibly, we can hope that the spread is contained and minimalised and this glorious industry can get back to full throttle as the backbone of the British economy.