Construction Industry Faces Changes and Challenges
After some wild ups and downs that don’t seem to be letting up (if you own any stocks, you know what I mean!), we are seeing some progress towards stability in at least one area.
Vaccinations for COVID-19 have finally begun to pick up steam, with 1.7 million doses being administered daily—well over the CDC’s stated goal of one million per day. At this rate, the USA is hoping to meet its goal of “herd immunity,” or at least 70% of the population vaccinated, by mid-to late summer. But there are serious concerns about the sustainability of this success.
Back to Normal? Or a New “New Normal?”
It’s become clear that the vaccination isn’t a “magic bullet” after all. Right now, the pandemic is still raging in much of the United States, disproportionately affecting minority populations and senior citizens. This means that the construction industry’s labor and supervisory forces have to remain vigilant for the short term.
In addition, new variants of the coronavirus are emerging. Some are more contagious, some are more dangerous (thankfully, at the moment, not both at the same time!)—and the current vaccine, while proving highly effective against the original strain, has been shown to provide less protection against the new strains.
It looks like we may end up confronting a disease that behaves like the seasonal flu, requiring yearly adjustments to the vaccine formula and regular booster shots to maintain protection. And the evidence suggests that some vaccinated people, while immune to the illness, may still carry and shed the virus.
And equally distressing is the fact that vaccination has become entangled with our currently divisive political atmosphere, meaning that compliance may not reach the ideal 70%-80% inoculation levels uniformly nationwide.
So, it’s clear that the current safety protocols will be with us for a long time to come.
Long-Delayed Economic Relief
The prolonged economic downturn and inconsistency of government policies intended to deal with its impact on both businesses and consumers have made predicting when we might see a return to “business as usual” an uncertain proposition.
With so many industries shut down or vastly curtailed by outbreaks or social distancing rules, construction—whether privately financed or government-funded—has been as heavily impacted as any industry.
Policies allowing tenants to defer rent payments have not always been accompanied by equivalent relief for landlords or developers who must meet their own obligations. And those deferrals are ending, leaving many facing huge debt obligations with no means to pay. Renters and mortgage-holders thrown out of work who would like to keep current on their obligations can’t spend relief funds that have been held up in Congress for months.
To make matters worse, loan programs that were intended to help business and industry maintain employment levels were quickly depleted, and small businesses operating on tight margins seeking relief often found that there was nothing left to help them survive.
How effectively these concerns will be addressed by the new administration remains to be seen.
These factors have combined to create a chilling effect on the construction industry that had managed to cope with the pandemic more effectively for longer than many less-resilient sectors of the economy.
With tax revenues broadly down from their usual levels, governments have not escaped the negative pressures, either. This has choked off a usually reliable source of funding to the construction industry, freezing many projects at all stages of planning and development.
Industry insiders look forward to a day when people will be able to resume paying taxes, mortgage payments and rent, bailouts will no longer be necessary, and the states and federal government are able to fund and authorize resumption of their construction projects.
What Do Supervisors Need to Know?
Modular construction planners must deal with the same concerns that all construction managers face, plus they must be concerned with any issues that factory supervisors face as well.
What are they?
For at least the foreseeable future, it will still be necessary to practice the CDC’s recommendations to protect construction workers and the industry’s clients.
In addition, employers and supervisors must have comprehensive prevention and response plans in place, including daily temperature checks, a well-enforced mask policy, sick leave and absenteeism policies that encourage workers to protect their health and their co-workers—all while maintaining adequate staffing levels.
There is no doubt that the current challenging conditions will continue for the foreseeable future. If you’re fortunate enough to have projects that are proceeding, protect your workforce to prevent shutdowns and stay in operation. Learn from—and share best practices with—your colleagues, and even with your competition. And hang in there!