What Does the Future of the Construction Industry Look Like?

“We began our discussions with an imaginative journey beginning with what our world would look like in 2022 and ending with what ASA must be in 2022”

Article by Marc Ramsey.

The construction industry may look quite different in 10 years. A group of ASA members met in January to take a look ahead at what’s in store for the construction industry over the next 10 years. The members comprise ASA’s review and Planning Council, also known as the Rap Council. This council is the “think tank” of ASA and is charged with developing innovative ideas for consideration by the association. “The exercise is intended to provide a starting point for discussion by ASA’s committees, councils and task forces and to offer proactive ideas, observations and predictions about the future of our world, the contractors, and of course, the association that represents us,” said Rap Council Chair Denise Mello, Sealant Specialists Inc., Albuquerque, N.M. “We began our discussions with an imaginative journey beginning with what our world will look like in 2022 and ending with what ASA must be in 2022. During that January meeting in Alabama, the Rap Council identified a number of global changes likely to affect the construction industry in some may. The list included concrete, tangible changes like deterioration of communication skills and remote, less tangible changes like decreased domination of the U.S. economy, a growing number of violent and political revolutions, larger inequality among economic classes and environmental challenges. Given this vision of the world, the Rap Council then discussed what the construction industry may look like 10 years from now. “The construction industry is changing to meet the demands of the world in which it operates, ” Mello noted.

The Rap Council anticipates for example, that the price of commodities will increase, driven by growth in the currently undeveloped or underdeveloped world. The construction industry also could see an increase in labor-only contracts as projects owners strive to control material purchasing in order to take advantage of fluctuating material prices. “Subcontractors at all levels will need to learn to overcome price objections,” Mello added.

More and more, other members of the construction team will demand professional subcontractors-substantiated by professional behavior. “Qualification and professionalism will mean more than certification,” Mello predicted, adding that “subcontractors will have to differentiate themselves through marketing and sales, not just provide the low bid.”

The Rap Council furthermore, expects to see more general contractors self-performing, while project owners will want to pare down the number of specialty trade contractors on projects, for management and control purposes. Meanwhile, the specialty trade contractors that remain will demand better management skills of their employees.

Worldwide competition for labor will drive up labor costs, the Rap Council believes, especially as the economies of currently undeveloped and underdeveloped countries rapidly expand the access to cheap foreign labor declines.

The construction industry will experience numerous other changes, the Rap Council believes, including changes in funding and purchasing technique. Fluctuating materials costs may drive the development of new contract terms, which could in turn create new inequities. More “manufacturer-like” processes and work sites will be introduced, and technology will help address the lack of precision in plans and specifications, as well as drive improved and faster payment. Changing technology could also bring new problems, such as a continued devolution of subtle communication skills leading to incomplete or unprofessional plans, specification and contracts. Generation and cultural differences also could present challenges.

The Rap Council suggested that ASA will need to expand its relationships with owner groups and seek opportunities to educate owners, as well as educate subcontractors about these new challenges the next decade promises to bring.

In addition to Mello, the Rap Council is composed of Robert Abney, F.L. Crane & Sons Inc., Southhaven, Miss.; Jack Austhof, Sobie Company Inc., Dutton, Mich.; Cris Gillmore, Concrete Services Corp., Tulsa, Okla.; Greg Kannin, Dumas Hardware, San Antonio, Texas; Brad Miller, Midwest Crane & Riggins, Olathe, Kan.; and Tim Thomas, American Steel Fabrication, Pevely, Mo.

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