There’s opportunity for the industry in the midst of the chaos of a pandemic, according to one construction expert.
Procore Technologies Canada vice-president Jas Saraw spoke to FMI Corporation principal and managing director of research Jay Bowman about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on both the industry and economy and how technology can help shape a response during the Technology, Economics and Construction session at Procore’s recent Groundbreak virtual conference.
Bowman said despite the significant impact the pandemic has had on the construction industry he remains optimistic there will be a recovery.
“Our industry lags the overall economy by a year or a year-and-a-half. What we’ve seen is a potential recovery at an accelerated rate which means the downturn may be softened for construction over the next couple of years,” Bowman said.
Saraw noted while the industry tightened its belt in terms of construction delivery early on during the pandemic, “the belt got a little more loose as we understood what a safe construction site meant.”
“If there’s an increase in new cases given what we’ve learned in terms of tracking and fast testing, it wouldn’t have the same impact as we saw earlier in the year. We’ve just learned to navigate it better,” Bowman agreed.
He added the pandemic is above all a catalyst for change for the industry.
“This will reshape in many cases how we deliver construction services but also what kind of facilities will be needed on the back end of this (event),” Bowman said.
The fate of the downtown office is a matter of opinion, he added, with a quarter of former office workers staying at home, another quarter coming in once or twice a week and half going to the office full-time. Interior design might also be remodeled to address the current or future pandemics.
“To get to the CEO or boardroom you have to wind through cubicle farms. We might see a change where the visitor aspect of an office is pushed to the front and everything else is in the back,” Bowman said.
Bowman said he’s also optimistic about public-private partnership (P3) projects in Canada where there has been extensive stimulus spending than in the United States.
“What will be done in the United States is that things will continually be pushed to the local government level. As intelligent transportation systems become more common, that might be the door that opens to more P3 projects in the U.S.,” he said.
Bowman said there’s more data than ever before but the ability to navigate this information will be what determines success for contractors.
“The question is the quality of that data and how you leverage it,” he said.
“What will differentiate most successful contractors is understanding how to create digital solutions across all types of platforms and job functions. It’s one of the more important things from a competitive standpoint for contractors going forward.”
While the future remains unpredictable, Bowman said, the construction industry can also use this time to its advantage.
“In times of heightened uncertainty is when greatest entrepreneurial opportunity exists. We’re past the major part of the storm and now is the time to work towards what the future looks like,” he said.
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