Sean Keyes, managing director at civil & structural engineering firm Sutcliffe, believes the construction industry will overcome all obstacles in 2022
The monthly Construction ONS figures are always a fantastic indicator as to how the sector is fairing and with figures before Christmas showing pre-Covid levels of productivity and success, there is certainly a huge air of optimism around the Sutcliffe office at the moment, as well as on the projects and building sites that we are working on currently.
The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster for the whole nation, with the economy taking a hit and the impact both mentally and physically taking its toll on all – however the one constant throughout the whole pandemic has been the resilience and strength of the construction sector and the thousands that work within it, with our company and many others well and truly ‘bouncing back’ in the face of adversity.
Not only has the last 18 months of social distancing, lockdowns and various other restrictions hampered most aspects of life too, many are already beginning to forget that 31 January 2020 also brought about the dreaded ‘B’ word…Brexit!
With Plan B Covid restrictions recently ending in England, the upcoming weeks, months and even years may now help us see the positive, or negative impacts that Brexit will have on everyday life and construction, with everyone at our company keeping their fingers crossed that with the pandemic now slowly but surely disappearing, we can soon look back on it like a nightmare that we will never want to relive.
‘North West is flourishing at the moment’
At civil and structural engineering firm Sutcliffe, it has been very much a case of ‘business as usual’ throughout 2021 and with the company adding to its proud list of 31,000+ projects completed since 1985, MD Sean Keyes is very confident that the construction sector will continue to overcome any adversity it faces, with Sean’s own region of Liverpool and the North West in particular flourishing at the moment, with numerous multi-million pound projects currently underway in the likes of Leeds, Manchester and the aforementioned Merseyside.
Whether it be healthcare, residential housing, extra care or commercial, Sutcliffe are never too far away from the biggest projects and after seeing first-hand the sector evolve and change throughout the last 35 years, Sean Keyes gave his expert predictions as to what he sees for the sector in the upcoming year – stating that the biggest fix needs to come from up-skilling current workers, as well as unearthing new talent for the next generation.
‘Construction sector remains incredibly strong’
“In my opinion, the construction sector remains incredibly strong and from what I’m seeing first-hand, there is plenty to be excited about as we move into the ‘business-end’ of Q1 and then into Q2 and beyond.
“I do still feel like there is a shortage of quality tradesmen and professionals at our disposal at the moment and that is affecting the sector in some sections. This has been brought on by a mixture of Brexit and Covid, with many senior professionals taking the decision to retire early and Brexit making it more difficult for skilled workers to come into the UK to work from Europe and beyond.
“In terms of price and labour, the rates of the best tradesman and their trades has also shot up and some businesses may struggle to be able to afford to attract the best talent in 2022, with these workers having the pick of the jobs and the top rates. Over time this will level off and return the normal level.
‘Education and training is at the top of the agenda’
“In our own office, education and training is certainly at the top of the agenda and through our apprentice scheme, Kickstarters and internal training modules, we are doing all we can to bridge the skill-gap, in the process giving school, college and University leavers a chance to cut their teeth at the very highest level.
“There is currently a lot of people coming into the industry who unfortunately haven’t had the full level of training compared to their older compatriots and with learning and training going predominantly virtual throughout the last 18 months, that real on-site experience is lacking and I can see it taking 18 months to 2 years before this is back on track again.”
With Sutcliffe providing a plethora of services from building surveying, to principal designer, site investigations and building reinstatement valuations – Sean Keyes is well and truly on the ground to see operations work on a day-to-day basis. Also regional chair at ACE (Association for Consultancy and Engineering), Keyes is regularly hearing and seeing potential improvements and any other issues facing the construction sector, as he continued by saying.
“In 2021, the price of materials sky-rocketed, again brought on by the pandemic and Brexit – some materials are still at an extortionate price and depending on the material in question, some projects are seeing a 10 – 20% delay on finishing, as well as an increase on overall costs.
“The price of structural steel for instance is at an all-time high and if and when the price of materials goes up, there will either be an overpayment on a contract, or in comparison if the prices drop, then a sub-contractor is incentivised to delay the project, until he can see the benefits of the price drop, which again slows down the whole supply chain.”
A huge advocate of the Northern Powerhouse and the government’s levelling up agenda, Sean Keyes and Sutcliffe are doing all they can to create local jobs and to bring big projects to the Liverpool City Region and beyond.
Named on a host of large frameworks last year, Sutcliffe will continue to grow and expand as they move towards their 40th anniversary in 2026 and with the construction sector certainly in good hands with business leaders such as Sean Keyes flying the flag, Keyes finished by predicting a good year for all involved.
Record breaking 12 months for construction
“Construction ONS output figures should continue to rise in the months to come and as the general public and businesses continue to return to face-to-face working and higher levels of spending, I am confident that we will be having this conversation in February 2023, talking about another record breaking 12 months for the sector.”