Dan Grimshaw, design and construction specialist at Beam Development, argues that the current supply chain crisis could ultimately hasten the modernisation of the construction sector.
The ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit, Covid and the Suez blockage has left the British building industry in the midst of a supply chain crisis, but it could bring about long-overdue change.
If we look at the current dominance of next-day delivery options, we need to ask whether it is the most efficient and sustainable way of doing things.
Suppliers have little idea what is coming down the line, because nobody is looking forward; they are just looking back at what they sold last week and the week before and basing the next week’s orders on that.
For the industry to adapt and flourish, we need to co-ordinate information across the supply chain and embrace the use of new digital technologies, such as product configurators or cloud manufacturing.
It could lead to a visible shift to a more-considered, more-productive, more-planned way of working in the next five to ten years.
Employing a more vigorous project management process could also lead to a reappraisal of geographic links and vulnerabilities.
Each sector of materials has its own story, but all of those stories are interconnected by Covid and Brexit.
Hitherto builders and contractors have had little idea where their materials came from because they had no need to ask about the breakdown and traceability of products.
But since leaving Europe and the start of the pandemic, we are more tuned into how and why a supply chain might be affected. There is an appreciation of where materials are coming from and the challenges of procuring and transporting them.
From being dependent on next-day-delivery options and doing things in bits and bobs, adapting to the new changes will ultimately make the sector more productive.
Ordering ten bags of cement for tomorrow and then 50 in the next day or when you need it, is not necessarily the most efficient way of doing things.
Thinking and planning ahead a bit more is no bad thing. And from a sustainability point of view, the harder it is to get hold of something, the more valuable it becomes. Scarcity increases value, and in turn you attach more value to it.
The future may see the decline of just-in-time-style procurement and the increasing importance of project management and says this will also require training.
For the sector to prosper, we urgently need to develop and nurture the people that work for us. We need more home-grown permanent staff and to build teams and keep them, rather than just drafting people in.
The key to a dynamic future lies in training, on-boarding and recruiting people into the sector from an early age and who have an energetic outlook to their prospects and their career.
Without doubt the industry has a daunting task ahead of it that will require bold and agile moves and deft navigation, but the size of the prize is enormous.