How has the pandemic impacted the construction supply chain? With businesses shut down in China as the country grappled to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, materials required for projects under construction in North America and throughout the world were held at ports. Even as manufacturing begins to return to normal in China, how will construction restart?
This was the scenario put to the panel of industry experts for the first of the RICS Insight Series – an interactive virtual panel. The panel was moderated by James Swanston, CEO and Founder of Voyage Control with Denise Berger, SVP and Chief Operating Officer at AECOM for North America, Joe Piro, VP of Supply Chain for Gilbane and Julian Anderson, President at Rider Levett Bucknall.
Before the pandemic impacted business in the US, the sector’s biggest concern was the shortage of labor and trade wars that threatened to impact the supply chain. A couple months later, work has stopped or slowed significantly as worksites need to follow protocols that call for physical distancing and appropriate PPE. New protocols are disrupting project workflows, adding additional costs and complexity as workers weigh the risks of catching the virus. Making sure employees are safe is the top priority.
“This is a very new norm,” explained Denise Berger, “there are lots of moving pieces right now and uncertainty doesn’t help.” Berger mentions new considerations to weigh including social distancing, union expectations, supply chain control, delays in production, working with agencies and operational workers who are afraid to leave their homes. She said there’s a lot of communication work being done and needing to continue to gain employee confidence to encourage them to come back to work.
As construction projects restart, these moving parts will need to all be considered and formulated into a plan. “Have a plan and base it on facts,” stresses Julian Anderson. “Keep in mind the political situations in countries around the world since the supply chain is global. Have a plan and be flexible.”
Among the factors that will require flexibility are restrictions on immigration, ability to travel between countries and the ability to have meetings with clients who prefer to meet in person. “Be ready to react to whatever the new norm turns out to be,” he said.
During the shutdown, companies of all sizes and in all sectors have benefited from the shift to digital solutions. From blockchain to BIM, these technologies will continue to drive progress and allow for collaboration between teams.
This is an important consideration as we shape the new norm, said Joe Piro. He worries that clients will want to reduce costs at the risk of missing out on the big picture and alienating the added value that comes from working closely with partners in the supply chain.
“Collaboration among peers is important so we can come out of this as wholly as possible,” said Piro. “Keep value add at the tip of the spear. Cost control is critical but looking at spend holistically is important.”
In closing the panel discussion, James Swanston highlighted the need to lift the “fog” by gathering real-time data about logistics, delivery scheduling and resource allocation.
Moving forward, there will be pressure on the infrastructure sector to create jobs and reenergize the economy. A lot of planning and collaboration is required to prepare the workforce to return as safely as possible. The expert panel highlighted the role RICS can play in bringing disparate voices from the industry together so that best practices can prevail.