The Scottish construction industry has had to contend with another period of pandemic-wrought challenge over the past 12 months as we emerged from a second, lengthy lockdown in the first quarter of 2021. This twinned with the real-time effects of a post-EU market created a series of logistical headaches. Despite this, the Scottish construction industry dug deep, finding admirable levels of resilience and adaptability. We hope this allows us to look ahead with confidence, knowing that, with a little bit of creative thinking, previously unimaginable problems can be overcome. With recent experience in mind, we may still need to factor in a little bit of the ‘unimaginable’ but, that aside, what else can we expect in 2022?
The good news is that in just about all corners of the industry, companies are reporting full, or near to full order books, for the year with investment decisions being green-lit by both public and private sector clients.
The need for adequate, sustainable living spaces, the evolution of our workspaces, the modernisation of utility infrastructure and the decarbonisation of transportation networks should all prove important drivers for activity within the Scottish Construction market.
Long term frameworks in the transportation and utilities sectors procured over the past 1-2 years should start to produce more opportunities for civil engineering contractors throughout Scotland. We appear to have weened ourselves off the need for headline-grabbing major infrastructure projects in recent years and that shift in scale has arguably created a better balance within the Scottish market, providing a steadier pipeline of opportunities for civil engineering contractors with a regional focus.
With strong house sales maintained throughout 2021, developers of both private and affordable housing enter 2022 in an optimistic mood albeit logistical issues around material supply and labour remain an unhelpful headwind. We are however receiving increasingly encouraging reports that the pathways to planning consent are becoming clearer, with more new schemes being green-lit.
Funding streams such as the Scottish Future’s Trust, City Region Deals and the new ‘Levelling Up Fund’ should create welcome investment in new and existing public buildings. The commercial and retail/leisure sectors look set to continue delivering a bounty of opportunities for fit-out and refurbishment specialists too. Again, restrictions on material supplies and the knock-on effect on price inflation will require some careful planning and tight commercial controls throughout project lifecycles.
The strain on talent is well publicised throughout the industry and it will be no surprise to anyone that this trend is set to continue in 2022. As a specialist recruiter focused on sourcing technical & professional construction disciplines, we operate at the sharp end of this.
There are no easy answers here, the heightened risks to budget and programme in all projects bring an understandable desire for caution with regards to talent acquisition. However, part of the solution will undoubtedly require construction businesses to redefine what talent actually is. If, by talent, we mean people who look and sound like the existing employees of a business; relatively risk-free appointments where qualifications and experience simply mirror those that came before, then we compound the problem. Year by year, inch by inch, the pool becomes that bit shallower.
If, instead, we define talent in much broader terms, looking at the potential that exists within individuals, their key competencies and their capacity to acquire new skills, then the talent pool very quickly looks richer, the options more plentiful. Yes it means factoring more time to allow people to learn new skills and gain experience in the job but some of the most rewarding recruitment we did in 2021 was with employers who were prepared to open their mind and give less typically obvious candidates an opportunity.
Retention of talent will be just as vital in 2022. Key to that will be communication. Good employers need to understand the aspirations their staff hold and be attentive to the challenges they face in their day to day to work. Careful attention needs to be given to remuneration too. We will soon publish our annual salary survey which will provide valuable insight in to how inflationary pressures on salaries have manifested throughout all technical & professional discipline groups across the industry.
In summary, 2022 looks set to be a year of growth and opportunity albeit business leaders will need to be alert to the potential pitfalls that exist to ensure risks are mitigated effectively. The Covid-19 Pandemic created an understandable need for short term thinking – how could we not in such changeable circumstances? But having weathered the storm, 2022 should be a year where we collectively get ‘heads up’ and switch attention to the longer term, deeper-set challenges the industry faces. Ultimately 2022 has the potential to be a year of welcome change and progression for those businesses and individuals that have the capacity to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
Our team are on hand to discuss your plans for 2022. Whether you are an employer putting together your resource plan for the year or a construction professional considering your next job move, we are always available for a confidential discussion.