The 2021 Built Environment Wrap-up & Future Look
As we look back on 2021, the built environment experienced another 12 months of widespread uncertainty with unprecedented impacts across the industry. From economics to politics to the environment, our BE industry continues to feel the effects of Covid-19 in ways never before seen.
In this year’s wrap-up we invited Nic Burt, CEO at Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA), James Cameron, Executive Director at Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) and Sarah Bachmann, CEO at National Precast to reflect on their organisation’s wins, losses and built environment industry insights for the future.
What are the key trends in the built environment that emerged this year?
Nic – For us, it’s the ongoing implications of the pandemic and climate change. We have made great progress, but the commitment to achieving net zero by 2050 is a significant change for the FM industry. It’s clear the role of FM will evolve as new infrastructure and technology is introduced into the built environment to achieve these targets.
Creating indoor environments that promote health, safety and wellbeing of the occupants has also been a big focus this year. The pandemic and extended lockdowns in some parts of Australia has brought health and wellbeing front of mind for many people and they want to be in spaces that support this. As we return to the office and spend more time in public indoor spaces, it’s more important than ever that these environments continue to evolve to reflect the changing needs of the people who use them.
James – Federal, state and territory governments have rolled out massive stimulus measures in construction to stimulate their respective economies. There has been HomeBuilder for residential construction and enormous investment in infrastructure across Australia. This stimulus spending has been very welcome by the industry, but it has also brought some pressures regarding skills and materials shortages.
Sarah – There is an obvious need for more responsible and ethical procurement practices that deliver proper sustainability outcomes, rather than the too often singular driver of price. A holistic approach is needed in the procurement process, considering not just price, but overall cost and value, plus the environment and the ongoing benefits to society. In our case, this means procuring from manufacturers who implement responsible and sustainable manufacturing processes. Benchmarking good practice in precast manufacturing, National Precast’s Master Precasters have been audited by industry specialists to ensure minimum standards are met.
What are the biggest issues right now facing the built environment?
Nic – As Australia continues on the path to reopening and the focus shifts to living and working safely with COVID, it will be vital that the FM industry supports people to re-engage with the built environment. Some parts of Australia experienced extended lockdowns over the past two years, so transitioning back to the office and using indoor public spaces is a significant shift for many people. There is a renewed focus on providing environments that promote health and wellbeing, and we need to clearly communicate how indoor spaces are meeting these needs. This is particularly important as people return to the office after spending much of the past two years working from home.
James – Skills and materials shortages are the greatest issues for the industry at the moment. There are also supply chain delays because of shipping issues, so timber and steel price rises have been significant in Australia and other countries. Dealing with regulatory reform in many jurisdictions in Australia is also a significant issue, but regulatory reform is something ACIF supports, as does the industry generally.
Sarah – Across all states, the construction industry and its supply chain (including the precast concrete manufacturing industry) is encountering shortages in skilled workers. The closing of international borders severely impacted on our skilled overseas’ worker supply. Adding to that phenomenon is the existing array of infrastructure projects already underway, combined with a massive post-COVID project pipeline, which both serve to widen the gap between the supply of, and demand for, skilled labour. While borders are set to open, Australia will be playing catchup and a roadmap to address the shortages is desperately needed. With the increased use of offsite manufactured products in construction – and precast concrete manufacturers being a major stakeholder in that regard – there is an immediate need to skill workers in precast design, manufacture and erection. Shortages of steel are also evident, combined with increased prices. This will have a flow on effect on construction costs generally, including to the cost of precast manufacture.
Let’s look ahead to the future. What can we expect to see?
Nic – As we navigate Australia reopening, COVID will continue to influence what living and working looks like in 2022. I think we will see this influence in changes to what indoor spaces look like, particularly in offices. We’ll see a move towards more open plan layouts with group interactive spaces, the focus for the office will be on collaboration and working from home used for more solitary tasks. Technology will continue to play a huge role in how we use and manage the built environment. We’ll see many innovations that promote sustainability and energy efficiency as well as technology that improves health and safety become a key focus in 2022.
Tied into both of the previously mentioned trends is the ongoing need for the FM industry to work closely with government and industry bodies across compliance and regulation issues. COVID and net zero both bring new challenges in this space with FM at the forefront of implementing changes and ensuring compliance.
James – The built environment is moving towards lower carbon emissions, and being proactive in that regard. We are also seriously tackling the issue of the culture in the industry, in terms of mental health, diversity and the long hours worked. These will be major issues in 2022 and in coming years. Improving productivity is also something that the industry has been and will be addressing in the future. It’s an ongoing process, and absolutely essential for the industry to remain competitive.
Sarah – The delivery of sustainable outcomes originates with responsible procurement decisions. National Precast calls on the National Skills Commission to urgently update its current Skills Priority List. In the meantime, National Precast is turning its own resources to develop online learning and its own Certificate in Precast Concrete.