Back in our January blog we made predictions on what we thought the transport and infrastructure sectors would look like in 2020.
We started that email with “2019 was quite a year”.
Little did we know!
In 2019 “Rugby World Cup” was the most Googled thing in the UK. In 2020 “Coronavirus.”
I don’t think that Nostradamus, or even Paul The Octopus (that predicted the 2010 world cup results), could have foreseen what 2020 had in store for us. But let’s take a look to see how our forecast measured up.
1. What we said: Civil Engineering backlog will catch up with itself
Whereas 2019 was the year that consultancies were busy with work, we predicted in 2020/2021 it’s likely that infrastructure contractor’s workload would pick up significantly.
Despite the world going into lockdown in March, the infrastructure sector actually managed to pick itself up and crack on despite facing some of the toughest restrictions in history.
While we didn’t see the huge influx of construction activity that we had anticipated, with Wylfa and Heathrow Expansion shelved for the time being, we have seen a decent amount of activity in this area.
Network Rail mobilised a fair amount of work over the course of the year, several major roads projects are underway and HS2 actually started! Overall senior hiring activity with infrastructure contractors in Rail, Roads and Water has been robust despite covid-19.
2. What we said: Diversity
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.
Well, COVID-19 certainly didn’t stand in the way of this trend. Diversity is, quite rightly, more valued than ever before.
According to a recent Forbes/ Deloitte survey 96% of CEO’s assert that Diversity & Inclusion has become a “personal strategic priority” for them. The majority also said that they will be prioritising and investing in D&I initiatives in practically every area of their business.
From our annual diversity report published in May, we can see that Transport and Infrastructure companies with at least 33.3% female directors rose by 2% to 20.7%. I expect this years results will also see an increase.
And it’s not just gender diversity that has had a boost this year. With the Black Lives Matter campaign, BAME diversity has never been publicised as much as it has in 2020, which means that we can expect some government enforced BAME diversity targets and reporting on BAME pay gaps in the not too distant future.
There is a still an incredibly long road ahead of us when it comes to BAME and gender diversity, but the progress made this year was promising.
3. What we said: Digital Transformation
We were expecting to see digital transformation across the industry pick up significantly.
There were no real ground breaking changes in industry applications.
However, most companies are now set up to work more flexibly and paperlessly – which is one good thing to come from the pandemic. Adoption of Teams, Zoom and team collaboration tools has introduced a way of working that was already common within consulting firms to other parts of the industry.
But other than that, we didn’t see the huge digital revolution in 2020 across the built environment and transport sectors that we were anticipating.
4. What we said: Decarbonisation
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. All of this means that developing solutions to reduce emissions will undoubtedly become more of a priority as the year goes on.
Environment and sustainability had an even bigger impact in 2020 than we ever could have predicted.
With the unprecedented decision to reject Heathrow’s Expansion plans back in March, due to the influence of the Paris Agreement, despite it not being on statute book when the government originally passed the Aviation NPS. It became clear that benefit and cost are no longer the sole influential factors when it comes to infrastructure projects getting the green light.
Just earlier this month, Lower Thames Crossing quickly recalled their planning application amid fears that they wouldn’t get sign off due to environmental factors.
And with the government’s new 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, decarbonisation is truly a top priority for our industries.
5. What we said: 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.
With Heathrow being the most vocal advocate for offsite manufacture, things in this area went very quiet once Expansion was paused.
6. What we said: 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.
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. This is in part due to the uncertainty around rail franchising in the UK, until the outcome of Williams’ Review is clear.
Rail franchises were hit hard by the pandemic, at a time when they were already struggling.
We were certainly right that we haven’t seen much movement of people in this area at all throughout 2020, and operating companies have massively slimmed down their central teams with no active bidding programme to pursue.