Construction as an industrial sector was growing strongly in the last decade. Corona crises, supply chain disruptions have slowed growth in the last two years, but the sector was still growing in terms of employment. The topic of skill and employee shortages hardened from year to year. In March 2023 the sector has more time to reflect on the somehow rapid, if not sometimes chaotic growth of the previous decade. The macro-economic scenario has changed now. Following on supply chain disruptions, we saw the high inflation rates of raw materials. The war of Russia against Ukraine caused energy prices to soar and eventually come down again. Latest worry is the increase in interest rates to finance construction projects of public, private and the business sector.
The whole sector is known for its economic role of forerunner of economic cycles, up or down. So, what are the prospects? Not so rosy, as the experts explain for example on the expert forum of the Belgian construction forum. The official from the Belgian National Bank announced a rather bleak outlook for the sector. New construction is stalling, but the renovation of buildings, especially for the purpose of reducing energy consumption is still strong and growing. Long-term reduction of emissions keeps the sector busy, thanks to the EU green deal in my opinion. The public, private and business investments in buildings all keep growth from turning negative. 2 big worries remain: (1) skill shortages and the lack of employees signalled in job openings in the sector is high and still rising; (2) the scarcity of women employed in the sector is still trailing most other sectors. Most companies have seen earnings grow over the last decade, sufficient time to build up reserves for the tougher quarters to come. Skill shortages and gender biases are harder to overcome. The Construction Forum in Brussels addressed both topics and tries to convince employers and the younger generation. Construction companies have to work on their male-dominated image was one of the take home messages Hélène de Troostemberg, the Director of Build Up pronounced.
It is not certainly not enough to have a woman as moderator of a panel and an all-female singers group accompanying the presentations. Women as architects, technicians and builders will make the sector even more attractive for the next generation of men as well. Aging of employees in the sector is another tough issue waiting for innovative solutions. Digitalisation of every step in the value chain is an additional necessary step. The leadership and trade unions in the sector are well aware of these facts. Maybe next year women engineers will pilot the robotics demonstration rather than being in charge of building a nice atmosphere with their songs. I must admit I liked the intro song to the Forum: “We build this city on rock ‘n role”, but I am less sure whether rock ‘n role will solve the gender and recruiting issue of the sector. However, naming and framing the problem(s) is already part of the solution.