The New Year presents renewed optimism and opportunity for many in commercial construction. As we approach recovery, leaders must turn their attention toward investments in increased capacity, expanded capabilities, and new product and technological developments. While such investments eventually will yield a return on investment, payback can be accelerated for those first to take the lead as collaborative partners poised for growth.
Along with the strength of partnership, here are four overarching trends that will influence how successful 2016 will be for all of us in the commercial building industry.
From owners to architects to installers, nearly everyone is pursuing a system-based approach to risk management in commercial building. In particular, manufacturers need to be prepared for a world where purchasers of materials are increasingly unwilling to handle the integration of products themselves. Manufacturers are expected to prequalify their products with most, if not all, adjacent and complementary products to ensure a seamless user experience.
Avoiding commoditization and highlighting product differentiation will require more than offering generic components. It will necessitate a systematic view of how these components fit together with each other, as well as how they integrate with other systems to serve the whole building design.
With accelerated construction timelines and global team members, workdays are no longer prescribed by daylight. Users expect detailed, customized data, on-demand 24/7/365. Regardless of the hours, building team members still count on trusted, personal relationships to provide innovative solutions. Whether the project is a complex, newly constructed high-rise or a straightforward, single-floor office renovation, the most successful outcomes often are determined in the earliest planning stages with an integrated team of reliable partners.
Following the plan and ensuring collaboration, Integrated Project Delivery leverages the experience, expertise and input from all team members. Following an IPD process, the team reduces waste and maximizes efficiency while improving productivity throughout the project from design and fabrication to installation and completed construction. Ultimately, the team strives to obtain the greatest value for the owner.
IPD also makes it easier to achieve commercial building projects’ sustainability objectives. These objectives and expectations now go well beyond the simple recyclability of a product or its bill of materials. Today’s savvy building team members examine lighting, heating and cooling systems and more. Thermal and acoustic modeling allows for informed predictions of energy savings and occupant comfort. Both have long-term influence on a building’s rental rates, vacancies and tenant satisfaction, as well as on operational costs and environmental impact.
Commercial building teams are more educated than ever in selecting products with multiple attributes to achieve performance-based outcomes. Some team members also are now questioning the composition of the products that deliver these functional results. Several green organizations, including the U.S. Green Building Council, now request in-depth information on material composition and creation.
Inspired by product transparency and a systematic focus, more are looking at the cradle-to-cradle lifecycle—from the energy used to power manufacturing plants to the emissions associated with transporting products to the chemicals that may affect people’s health. Challenges ahead will not only be to help educate building team members about how to identify potential risks, but understanding how to evaluate the deluge of information being supplied to make decisions about the total environmental impact of their projects.
Healthy and safe employees are productive employees. Attracting and retaining skilled labor in construction and manufacturing will require diligence. As the aging U.S. population regains economic confidence, predictions indicate that people in the workforce who are 65-years-old and older will begin to retire.
For many companies in construction and manufacturing, these predicted retirements bring both losses and gains, but overall, it presents the opportunity for growth. Lost will be the intellectual and practical advantages earned with years of experience. Gained will be the opportunity for mid-level workers to be promoted into leadership positions along with the potential for entrants to the industry to bring their new ideas and technological skills.
Across all positions and levels of experience, workers seek training, mentorship and recognition. While there are some generational differences in workplace expectations and recruitment techniques from Boomers to Gen X to Millennials, it remains universally true that those in the most junior roles will need the most attention. For their part, this puts the burden of mentorship on the senior levels to effectuate a proper transition. This is not the traditional role they are used to playing–gone are the days of “watch what I do and when I’m gone, you do it.”
Many Millennials are eager to dive in and learn on the job. As part of hands-on training program, these newest entrants may be very quick to adapt to the industry’s fast pace. They also are well suited for cross training, as many prefer jobs that allow them to do different tasks on different days. To retain Millennials beyond the initial training investment, it’s useful to have a structure that encourages collaboration with a wide variety of colleagues and recognizes both group and individual accomplishments. An effective working environment fosters both creativity and traditional pedagogy and it is up to today’s senior managers to encourage this.
Generational and demographic influences will be felt across all facets of the economy and the built environment, which in turn, creates new opportunities for commercial construction and manufacturing.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Review’s Occupational labor projections to 2022: “As demand for medical services increases as a result of population aging and expanding medical insurance coverage, the health care sector and its associated occupations are expected to see sizable gains in employment and output. The construction industry, as well as the occupations that support it, also will experience rapid growth in employment and output. Employment in the construction sector is expected to return to its long-term trend of increase, a rebound consistent with expectations about future population growth and the need to replace older structures.”
Focusing on flexibility allows organizations to anticipate, address and respond to changing needs in the market. As the economic recovery continues to show, betting too much on one sector is a likely death sentence.
Central locations and broad manufacturing capabilities further help prevent obsolescence. Those positioned for the greatest success are the businesses that, during the economic downturn, made strategic adjustments to their business to create a lean and efficient organization.
Planning for a successful future involves risk and optimism. It requires a strategic investment of financial and personnel resources. It takes reliable information and trusted partners. Above all, it means making a commitment to a long-term vision of success, to adapting when needed and to pursuing it with purpose and diligence.