2019 was quite a year.
“Rugby World Cup” was the most Googled thing in the UK last year, closely followed by “Cricket World Cup”, astronomers captured the first ever picture of a black hole and more people voted in elections than ever before.
As far as transport and infrastructure goes, there were several themes that shaped business last year. We’ve seen some areas thriving and some where activity has stalled, but overall the industry is looking bright despite pressures from Brexit and a turbulent year for politics.
Looking back at our experience of the industry from last year, there are certain trends we expect to see within transport and infrastructure in 2020.
Here are our top predictions for 2020.
1. Civil Engineering backlog will catch up with itself
A lot of major civils projects that were due to start construction in 2019 didn’t happen or major project decisions were stalled. More than one in three major road projects were cancelled or delayed, Network Rail’s CP6 frameworks have had a slow start, Wylfa new nuclear build was cancelled, HS2 has obviously hit a bump in the road and Heathrow Expansion has pushed back their completion date.
All of this means that we could potentially face a sudden influx of construction activity all taking place at the same time towards the end of the year. So, whereas 2019 was the year that consultancies were busy with work, in 2020/2021 it’s likely that contractor’s workload will pick up significantly.
The dangers, of course, of all this construction activity is that there simply may not be enough resources to go around. Companies will be battling for the best talent to lead these projects; funding will be scarce, and some may even face being delayed further.
If you are looking at recruiting major projects people this year, it might be an idea to plan early before all the good people are snapped up by competitors.
Diversity of leadership teams has become a priority like never before, particularly gender diversity. It is very rare now that when we are being briefed on a new search, we aren’t asked to factor this into assignments. If we compare this to five years ago, discussions on diversity instigated by the client were rare.
With women making up only 16% of the Directors across the top 150 Transport and Infrastructure companies the industry has a long way to go on diversity, both gender and BAME, but it is making strides and moving in the right directions. Many companies now have strict policies when it comes to shortlists and targets for diversity on their boards.
Last year 27% of the leadership candidates we placed were female compared with 15% the year before proving not only how much of priority this factor has become, but also that women are increasingly getting the right opportunities within the industry so that they are the best candidates for roles.
3. Digital Transformation
Digitisation is far from a new buzzword, but it is one that we expect to hear a lot more of in the coming years. Making transport and infrastructure smarter and more efficient through digital transformation is going to be a key theme going forward.
We have already had several clients who are recruiting for digital transformation projects within their own companies and as part of their service offering.
The UK became the first major economy to pass a net-zero emissions law in June last year, with the target of hitting that goal by 2050.
With this, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was introduced, many other UK cities are considering their own schemes and there is the prospect of similar curbs to be announced this year for construction plant.
All of this means that developing solutions to reduce emissions will undoubtedly become more of a priority as the year goes on.
5. Off-site manufacture
UK construction is seeing an increase in the uptake of Offsite Manufacture. With many major projects, including Heathrow Expansion, committing to offsite construction. There are many great advantages to offsite manufacture for the sector, from a recruitment standpoint, it is an excellent opportunity to open up the talent pool and reduce labour costs.
Expect candidates with experience in this area to be in high demand this year.
6. UK rail franchising
Financial difficulties within the rail franchise market have had a serious impact on the market. Most transport operators have struggled to break even and there have been no companies reporting significant profits.
There are many factors that have contributed to this, but a lot of this comes down to the fact that franchises were let on the assumption that they would be able to grow revenue which hasn’t happened. Several big infrastructure projects have been delayed meaning new services couldn’t run as planned and passenger growth has plateaued due to the strikes and changes in passenger behaviour (more home working and virtual meetings).
Because of this, last year we saw a steep decline in the amount of senior management changes in the rail market. People are staying put for the time being.
And it’s not just operators who are noticing the effects. Several consultancies in the rail market are starting to look internationally for work. This is in part due to the uncertainty around rail franchising in the UK, until the outcome of Williams’ Review is clear.
Companies that are dependant on franchising to give them work have suffered from a pause in activity and have had to look further afield.
2019 kept us on our toes, and I don’t expect 2020 to be any different. What are the biggest trends you are noticing in your business?