With the Omicron variant in full flight across the UK, it is difficult to go into the Christmas party season without some trepidation for next year but fingers crossed the booster jab campaign and other measures will allow the country to quickly resume its journey out of the pandemic’s grip in 2022. Here are our predictions for five major people trends in the infrastructure sector next year.
1. Salaries will rise
Office for National Statistics figures this week showed that Consumer Prices Index inflation was at its highest rate for a decade as shortages persist of many items and employment levels grow. As the UK – we hope – continues to accelerate out of the pandemic next year, we expect to see this supply-and-demand equation put further pressure on prices. This, in turn, will lead to employees demanding pay rises, especially in what they see as a booming job market and with pent-up dissatisfaction at roles some have felt trapped in for the last two years sparking what has already been dubbed The Great Resignation. Expect to pay more to attract or retain staff at all levels in 2022, particularly good leaders.
2. Relocations abroad will resume
In those hazy days when Corona was a drink and social distancing meant staying away from those who had enjoyed a few too many, a growing number of senior British infrastructure professionals were being tempted to sunnier climates to drive other countries’ ambitious infrastructure plans. That grounded pretty much to a halt in March 2020 as travel restrictions, huge uncertainty and a desire to stay near family put the knockers on emigration plans. But we’ve noticed a tentative re-opening of these doors as countries such as Australia, Canada and parts of the Middle East look to bring in British expertise to help deliver huge pipelines of work. Expect some long-haul flights in 2022.
3. Collaboration skills will become critical
When Network Rail unveiled plans to put almost £10bn worth of potential work to market on Bonfire Night this year, in the form of its Southern Integrated Delivery framework, it fired a long-awaited rocket into the procurement space. The rail infrastructure operator said it was looking to achieve “a step change in the way renewals are delivered” by creating a “fully integrated team” based on the industry-led Project 13 model, which seeks to boost collaboration and productivity. After all the talk, 2022 looks like the year when consultants and contractors realise the urgency of hiring leaders who have proved they can genuinely work with rather than against clients.
4. All sums will add up to net zero
Clearly the decarbonisation agenda is not going anywhere fast. As well as Cop26 and its pledges to move away from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and road transport, there are client-led moves such as Network Rail’s target that 75% of the emissions suppliers create on the railway are within science-based targets by 2025. Pressure will only grow when a re-written PAS2080 – the standard for whole-life management of carbon in infrastructure – emerges in the near future. Demonstration that a project helps towards zero carbon goals will be a prerequisite of future funding and planning decisions, making individuals who can do the calculations and explanations highly prized assets next year.
5. It will be smart to work smart
With so much to achieve in building and upgrading infrastructure assets for a post-pandemic world while meeting decarbonisation, productivity and collaboration goals, there will be a huge focus on achieving more for less. This means contractors and consultants finding ways to get projects designed, approved and built as quickly and efficiently as possible. Those with the skills to get schemes through key hurdles at pace without burning budgets or bridges will pay for themselves and bring their organisations success. It is going to be a tough year but the rewards are there for the canny.
How did we do last year?
Glancing back through time, we made 10 predictions this time last year for what we expected to see in 2021. Without going through those in painstaking detail, let’s say we were probably on the right lines with most of them, even if some are taking longer to materialise than expected.
We said there would be a return to office and hybrid working, which wasn’t far wrong, at least until the latest guidance putting the brakes on that in light of Omicron. Our forecasted focus on electric vehicle charging infrastructure was given fresh impetus by the COP26 pledge to end the sale of cars driven by fossil fuels – and indeed there are already five times as many charge points in the UK as there were five years ago. We also foresaw a shake-up of the train operating jobs market, and ministers in 2021 announced the creation of Great British Railways to own and run the network, something we expect to lead to lots of people movement.
Meanwhile, it gives us no pleasure to record that we predicted the downfall of a major contractor this year, as was seen with unfortunately nmcn collapsing into administration in the autumn. We hope 2022 will see contractor’s P&Ls recover across the board.
Of course, we’re still waiting for approval of the Sizewell C new nuclear project, which we thought would happen in 2021.