A New Decade – Soben’s Reflections and Predictions

10th January 2020

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The 2010s was a decade of phenomenal change. Beginning in the midst of a global financial crisis and international recession, 2010 saw the launch of the first IPad from Apple, Facebook take over Google as the most visited site on the web, and a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in Parliament.

As we moved through the decade, the explosive growth of big tech continued, with the development of smartphones, app technology, and internet access changing almost all aspects of our lives.  In particular, the growth of technology began to impact the way we work, allowing remote access to work systems, enabling the trend towards flexible working.

In the second half of the decade, we saw yet more technological advances, and for construction in particular the rise of BIM, 3D Modelling, AI, and new building technologies.  However, construction lagged behind many other industries in adopting newly available technologies.

The rise of women in business was also a trend to watch.  In 2017, Heidreik and Struggles  revealed that 38% of board positions of Fortune 500 companies were held by women, although acknowledged that progress remained slow.

The latter years of the decade have been dominated by geo-political uncertainty, Brexit, the rise of populism and nationalism, and ‘fake news’ largely driven by social media, as well as growing awareness of the climate crisis facing us all.  In short, it’s been an eventful time.

So what do the 2020s have in store?

Following the results of the general election and the UK’s confirmed stance on Brexit, we are likely to see an upsurge in construction activity in the short term, as businesses move on projects that have been delayed as a result of political uncertainty.  However it is likely that we will experience some economic slowdown as the impact of our exit from the European Union hits.  This slowdown is likely to hit hardest those businesses that have failed to keep up with the pace of change in recent years, and could result in a significant shakeup in the UK marketplace.

As we are all aware, the digital revolution that was beginning in 2010 is now in full flow.  The rise of AI and automation is already impacting the construction industry, and we must continue to embrace new technologies in order to meet global construction requirements.

At Soben we have investigated many new and emerging technologies and trends that will impact the construction industry in the future, including; BIM, drones, AI, and autonomous vehicles, smart cities, the rise of digital twin technology, and futuristic building technologies including bio-concrete, pollution absorbing bricks, and even robotic exoskeletons for construction workers.

The talent shortage facing the construction industry will continue to impact the industry productivity if it is not addressed.   The industry must work harder to encourage more women and young people into construction and STEM.  We have looked at the challenges that continue to face women in our industry, and also the skills required for surveyors of the future.  It is imperative that the education sector is able to supply graduates with the skills required for the future needs of the industry, and that we have a regular flow of new graduates to allow sustained growth.

Industry’s response to the climate crisis, and the drive away from carbon fuels and towards renewables could lead to significant transformation, particularly amongst the traditional large energy companies.  Construction is waking up to the climate emergency and we are already aware of emerging technologies that will help us to create more sustainable builds with a reduced impact on the environment.  Whether this is enough will remain to be seen.

As we approach the beginning of the new decade, it is clear that we have lived through a period of considerable change, and that this pace of change is likely to accelerate as we respond to new working patterns, technological advances, political pressures, and the needs of the world around us. The future is now, and we must embrace it.