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Construction, coronavirus and infrastructure

Tuesday 19 May 2020 Workforce Management

By Andrew Symonds

The construction industry has endured something of a slump as the lockdown measures implemented, designed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, have impacted the way in which everyone can work. It’s not possible to run a building site in what was the ‘normal’ fashion under social distancing guidelines. As the situation evolves and people start returning to sites, there is an opportunity for construction firms to implement long term, beneficial changes to their practices and processes.

With restrictions on how people can interact with one another, gaining a crystal clear, comprehensive overview of who is on site at any given moment is vitally important. Aside from placing your workforce at risk, having too many people too close together is going to be damaging for morale amongst your workforce and damaging for your reputation. With an opaque view of who is on site and when, this could very easily happen.

There is also the need to understand the opportunities that the lockdown has presented to the construction industry. Of course, material building has taken a significant hit, but other projects, such as those to infrastructure on roads and at airports, are being brought forward in order to minimise disruption to infrastructure once everything is open as usual again.

This means diverting materials and resources to sites at short notice. With a quieter road and rail infrastructure, many construction firms have been slowly ramping up their moving of materials to sites where they will be most needed in the near to medium term future. For some, this has necessitated the hiring of new staff to drive lorries and vans to ferry items between depots and sites.

Covid-19 has required a nimble response from the construction industry. How has your firm fared?

Workforce management is crucial to the construction industry now, with the need to manage the demands of split shifts to keep social distancing measures practically enforceable. This extends beyond simply managing shift patterns and also has a requirement to understand how workers can reach sites – it’s no use rostering someone to start at a site outside of public transport operating hours if that’s how they get to work. Also, it’s important to ensure that the right people are scheduled together, so that the shifts of various operators complement the demands and skills of their colleagues on site at any given time.

This leads into the area of competency management; of knowing what qualifications each worker holds to ensure that they are suitable for the role to which they are being assigned. During recent times, that has resulted in firms being able to realise efficiencies from within their existing workforce by repurposing some workers to different roles across different shifts.

For admin staff and schedulers, there is also a need to understand the firm’s logistics to ensure that everything and everyone is in the right place at the right time. Flexibility will play a crucial role in getting construction sites moving again, with new rotas to ensure that distancing measures can be adhered to and that a safe environment is in place for everyone, with provision of PPE equipment where necessary.

The construction industry is currently walking a tightrope of reputational, employee and practical danger. Highlighted by prime minister, Boris Johnson, as a crucial industry to the UK economy and one that cannot function with its employees working from home, construction bosses must find the right balance between productivity and safety.

Achieving this is not easy. Balancing moral and practical demands is where the construction industry has found itself. Understanding its workforce has never been more important and will serve the industry well going forward.

Construction hasn’t entirely stopped. For many, opportunities have presented themselves.

Construction, coronavirus and infrastructure