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After a turbulent year of adjusting forecasts and changing expectations, 2021 will be a year of reemergence and growth in the construction industry. Rising construction costs and labor shortages persist, challenging the industry to innovate competitive new ideas, while stricter regulations contribute to a reduced margin for error and waste.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how the construction industry does business, from scheduling projects to hiring workers to meeting with clients. Looking forward, many industry trends will be affected by the fallout from the pandemic. New technology continues to change the construction site, improve the ability to win projects, and increase profit margins. Trends and movements are changing the roles of industry professionals and frontline workers.
As the industry becomes more competitive and the market shifts, harnessing these construction trends will prove valuable for any construction firm. Read on for the 10 must-watch construction industry trends for 2021 to help you stay competitive.
1. Protective Equipment
2. Efficient Technology
3. Growing Need for Laborers
4. Remote Worksites and Mobile Access
5. Rising Material Costs
6. Green Building
7. Modular and Offsite Construction
8. Construction Management Software
9. Focusing on Residential Projects
10. Smart Cities
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted the construction industry, already affecting construction site guidelines by way of updated state regulations emphasizing cleanliness and strict safety protocols. This also includes increased union influence in projects, possibly adding cost and time to projects.
The industry is also witnessing a rise of machines capable of identifying common safety issues and eliminating those threats one at a time. Wearable innovations are making their way to the job site with work boots that connect to Wi-Fi and alert others if a person has fallen. Material moving “mules” transport heavy or hazardous materials, and tasked robots construct scaffolding or lay bricks autonomously.
Beyond worker gear, we are already seeing robots that fully replace certain human workers. These range from material moving “mules” to scaffolding and bricklaying robots.
More accurately than “replacing” humans, these robots are changing the jobs humans do — in most cases, they’re augmenting human decision-making (like deciphering and translating data findings into actionable insights) and making room for different, higher-level jobs.
Reliance on 3D printing continues to skyrocket, resulting in decreased transportation risks, and environmental sensors that detect noise, heat, and wind at construction sites provide warnings to evacuate construction workers and move costly construction equipment in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
The biggest differentiator for builders and developers this year is likely to be technology in construction — specifically, the innovations that can enhance efficiency. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing increased reliance on construction technology, too; these are a few types of tech that will only increase in popularity through 2021 and beyond.
Experts see blockchain technology improving relationships in the construction industry — it’s a powerful component in providing a more secure and fast-moving workflow that allows all involved parties access to improved productivity.
Smart contracts offer all organizations in a project a shared system to do business, allowing them to buy, track, and pay for services. Rather than getting contracts and tracking deliverables from separate parties, firms can use smart contacts as an all-in-one tracking system where rules and deadlines are set and the blockchain enforces them. This system will make for faster closeouts, increased security, better project tracking, and an automated supply chain.
Drone use in the construction industry continues to be one of the fastest growing trends, with usage rising by 239 percent year over year. The technology offers far more uses than just aerial photography for real estate and commercial efforts.
Today’s drones are used for rapidly mapping large areas over long distances, producing valuable aerial heat maps and thermal images. The advancing drone software provides real-time, actionable data that can be used for rapid decision making, further streamlining the entire construction process.
Personal safety and equipment loss continues to be the biggest liabilities in construction. Drones can perform jobs in place of human workers to prevent injury, such as jobs requiring scaling supertall structures. As on-site security tools, drones can be leveraged to reduce labor costs and minimize the risk of theft, keeping projects on schedule and minimizing hiccups.
More advanced future uses include monitoring equipment depreciation and incorporating AI to organize moving construction equipment.
The global AR market is expected to be valued at more than $1.2 trillion by the end of the decade, up from about $37 billion in 2019. On the client front, AR means efficient project-staging, and making pre-construction projects tangible for buyers and tenants.
For builders and developers, AR facilitates the use of wearable technology and 360-degree video to enable:
. 3D visualization of future projects on their surrounding environment
. Automated measuring of buildings
. Fast and affordable simulation of architectural and structural changes
. Safety training and hazard simulations
Building information modeling technology is helping industry leaders stand out with improved efficiency. BIM allows users to generate computer renderings of buildings and utilities. The ease of managing these models and sharing data can enable superior prefabrication of parts, leading to on-time and accurate completion. Autodesk describes it as “an intelligent 3D model-based process to help professionals manage buildings and infrastructure.”
According to Finances Online, top BIM software solutions available in 2021 include:
1. Autodesk BIM 360
2. Tekla BIMsight
One of the most noticeable construction trends of the past few years is a vast increase in the demand for labor. Quality labor is expensive and competitive, though robots do pick up a lot of the slack.
Despite these robots’ best efforts, we will need more educated workers to manage and interpret the data produced by new technology. Fortunately, women are stepping in to fill more competitive roles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women occupy only 10.9 percent of construction industry jobs, and industry hiring trends show a 94 percent growth in female-owned construction firms from 2007 to 2018; additionally, 30 percent of construction companies promoted a woman to a senior position in 2018.
The industry is also targeting Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2010, in recruiting efforts. In the past, negative perceptions of trade school were detrimental to efforts to hire new talent in construction. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in attitudes toward alternative education options and resulted in increased positive attitudes toward trade school, positioning construction firms to show off the career growth potential in their industry and the abundant opportunities to experiment with new technologies.
Mobile applications in the construction industry allow worksite access like never before possible, including real-time inspections, on-site accountability, and accurate measurements taken from a mobile phone camera.
COVID-19 mandated that teams continue to collaborate without physical access to materials, spaces, or even other teammates. AECOM developed technology that allows for public approval meetings to take place virtually so that public projects can continue to move forward without in-person gatherings. Other mobile apps in the marketplace include measuring assistant AirMeasure and asset management software Infotycoon. Those without complete mobile connectivity will be at a productivity and sales disadvantage going forward.
The Producer Price Index for construction goods rose 5 percent over the three-year period ending in November 2020, per the Association of General Contractors. Rising interest rates are likely to compound all types of costs, resulting in further pressure on total construction. Technologies like drones, AR, and BIM will prove key to helping to maintain project volume and combat this cost pressure.
Innovative living materials and technology may push up costs further, even though they ultimately provide more savings for users in the long run. Some of these innovative materials include:
. Self-healing concrete
. 3D graphene
. Transparent aluminum
. Light generating concrete
. Invisible solar cells
Green construction is the expected standard for homebuyers, renters, and commercial tenants. Unfortunately, many sustainable and eco-friendly features remain a luxury, despite their long-term savings — though this will change over the next decade as ecotech and sustainable construction become more mainstream.
Renewable energy sources captured 11% of the energy market in 2019 (per the U.S. Energy Information Administration) and are only expected to grow in their share as accessibility increases. That’s a huge market, given buildings are still responsible for 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption and 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Green construction includes both the technology to lower a building’s carbon footprint and the use of resources and building models to reduce the use of resources. Perhaps an even greater driver of green building is proof of its value for occupants. Research shows that green buildings can have a positive psychological and physiological impact on inhabitants and even passersby.
Greenscaping, the practice of outfitting rooftops with plant coverings and small parks, is now commonplace in urban centers around the globe, exemplified by Google’s new multi-tiered London HQ. The developers deemed the project a “landscraper”, a building with similar dimensions to a skyscraper but build horizontally rather than vertically. This enables vast greenscapes to cover the structure while also improving its resistance to high-powered storms driven by climate change.
Modular and prefab construction is in the middle of a multi-year boom that isn’t showing signs of slowing down. The modular construction market, led by the residential sector, is predicted to balloon in value to almost $110 billion by 2025, driven by a lack of skilled labor and an increase in cost-cutting technology.
New technology also enables these prefab and modular buildings to grow larger than ever before. The 21-story CitizenM Bowery Hotel, opened in downtown Manhattan in 2019, is now the tallest modular construction project in the United States, and the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development recently partnered with a modular developer to construct a new affordable housing development in East New York. Many major international builders say they plan to pare down their on-site construction activity to just 25 percent by 2025 in favor of prefab construction.
The prefab industry hasn’t been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some manufacturers shutting down to address the shortage in large-scale, hospitality-focused modular construction. However, as a whole, offsite construction isn’t going anywhere. Modular projects offer the ability to better regulate employee safety in climate-controlled, ventilated environments, making them ideal for social distancing requirements implemented in locales everywhere.
8. Construction Management Software
Comprehensive construction management software is a vital tool for remaining competitive, building a valuable business, and mastering operational efficiency.
While each software service differs slightly in features and offerings, the best tackle end-to-end needs from RFIs to compiling data, sharing files with mobile teams, budgeting, document storage, payroll and HR, and inventory monitoring.
Top reviewed construction management software solutions for 2021 include:
6. Quick Base
Choosing the right construction management software is important for your firm. Begin with looking at ease of use and integration with other existing software. Look for scalable software that fits right now, yet will help manage your needs as those needs multiply. Evaluate customization options, upgrades, and additional features, and check for availability of support and training to get up-and-running.
As global investment from tech companies increases in complex megaprojects like smart cities, some of the largest construction companies, like Skanska, announced that they’re no longer pursuing large transportation public-private projects, instead focusing on lower-risk arrangements.
The large-scale project downturn is already resulting in increased interest in private sector projects. Residential construction spending in the private sector alone is up nearly 7 percent in 2020, and privately-owned housing starts clocked a 12.8 percent year-over-year growth in November 2020.
Some of the biggest tech companies in the world, like IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco, are investing heavily in megaprojects to build smart, sustainable cities. These cities are more intricate and interconnected than most megaprojects and require intense planning and development prior to commencement. Global spending on intelligent infrastructure development topped $120 billion in 2020 and is expected to sharply increase.
Some of the most notable global megaprojects in the works include Masdar City in the Emirates, Songdo International Business District in South Korea, Hudson Yards in New York City, and India’s Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor. These projects range in cost from tens of billions to over $100 billion and are projected to influence the economy, improve the infrastructure, and contribute to the environment.
These construction industry trends are rapidly changing the global market; rising prices, and skilled labor shortages are likely to continue in the coming decade, and regulatory challenges may become stricter with intense scrutiny on workplace safety and climate change adaptation. By adopting new practices, leveraging new technologies, and investing in new projects, builders and developers can reduce risk, win more contracts, and enjoy profitability.
2020 was an anomaly for statistics in the construction industry, but looking forward, the outlook is largely positive. After a tepid year, an upswing in construction is expected throughout 2021 as the US economy recovers from the pandemic and new economic centers continue to develop and grow.