How construction can fix its image post-pandemic


The new year is barely under way, yet it has already brought with it momentous change – new vaccines for COVID, being delivered at phenomenal pace; a potentially balanced political backdrop with the USA electing a more stable President; and, most importantly for our market, some resolution on Brexit.

While it may not be the conclusion that many wanted, and the details of the deal reached are still to be realised in full, it has delivered an element of certainty that has been so desperately needed. Our market cannot function without the confidence brought about by certainty and already we are seeing some signs of the built environment beginning to flourish again, as developers eye cheap money and deflated prices.

Making headlines for the wrong reasons

Against this backdrop, it has been very disheartening to see the distressing news emerging from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The technical details of who did what, where, when and why are being exposed as each witness gives their testimony. It is not pleasant reading. Had there not been a pandemic, Brexit and a US election, I feel sure that the cheating, obfuscation, blame-shifting and chicanery coming out in evidence would have captured greater headlines. Frankly, it has been shameful to witness and my heart goes out to the families of the Grenfell victims.

“It is never a good thing when government feels the need to step in and introduce its own policeman to control a sector”

It is never a good thing when government feels the need to step in and introduce its own policeman to control a sector. The fact that housing secretary Robert Jenrick has had to introduce a new regulator for construction products, which he says was prompted by evidence into the west London fire of what he called “dishonest practice by some manufacturers […] including deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests”, before the inquiry has delivered its verdict, speaks volumes.

As an industry, we are desperate to attract good-quality candidates into the consultancy profession, as well as finding willing men and women who wish to learn trades. Whilst many will maintain that materials manufacturers are not perceived as having any linkage to project managers, quantity surveyors, architects or reputable contractors, the truth is that, in the eyes of the public, which often follow the reporting of the lay media, we are all bracketed together. They see only ‘the construction industry’; and how many times does the word ‘cowboy’ still appear with monotonous regularity, in connection with the ‘builder’ title?


Don’t disregard public perception

There is also no room for smug disregard of the public perception of the professional side of our industry.

It was dispiriting to see the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors recently making headlines in the national press for alleged financial issues and castigation of whistleblowers who sought to bring some form of accountability to what they saw as the mismanagement of the organisation.

“It is clear that many who help to create the built environment have gone beyond the call of duty over the past 12 months”

Whatever the real story is, the perceived in-fighting and purported cover-up is not a good look for the body of 130,000 members, governed by Royal Charter, that is supposed to be beyond reproach. Parents, and peers, discussing career options with the next generation may well feel that, once again, ‘construction’ has shown itself to have too dodgy a reputation to offer a credible career path. This is at a time when we have a shortfall of people at all levels, from trades to design.

It is clear that many who help to create the built environment have gone beyond the call of duty over the past 12 months, supporting the health sector, from building the Nightingales in record time, to taking personal risks in travelling to and from sites.

They did not receive a clap on a Thursday evening when perhaps they should have. Post-COVID, I’d suggest that part of our re-emergence should include an image refresh. Let’s start making sure that the good things we do dominate the headlines, instead of allowing the negative aspects to set the agenda.

While scandal and crisis may help to sell newspapers, they’re certainly not good for recruitment


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