The dawn of this new decade was supposed to be an exciting period for industry growth. However, a global pandemic proved to be a challenge for builders and contractors racing to complete work in the midst of unprecedented supply chain, workforce and safety concerns.
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Construction professionals are holding their collective breath and hoping 2021 will be a little better than 2020. Industry experts are still expecting to see subcontractors, in particular, face several new and familiar challenges. What issues might uniquely affect subcontractors in 2021?
COVID-related safety measures will continue
While the first months of 2021 have seen the emergence of viable vaccines, it will be a while before things begin to return to normal. COVID-related safety precautions and restrictions will still likely be in place at least through the first half of 2021, depending on how long it takes to distribute vaccines to the general population.
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Measures like rotating shifts, social distancing and mandatory mask usage will continue to be necessary throughout the first two quarters of the year, at the very least. These restrictions presented various challenges throughout the previous year, making it harder to complete projects and meet deadlines. The changes that companies have already adopted will continue to be valuable for overcoming these hurdles in the coming year.
Increased pressure on securing bids
With slower construction growth comes the risk of competition undercutting bids for new projects. Contractors and subcontractors vying for work may face pressure to undersell their services in order to maintain operations.
2021 will bring competition in the face of limited growth and ongoing worksite challenges. Still, subcontractors will need to review their equipment, materials and labor costs and ensure new work is adequately covering increased costs and potential delays.
Focus remains on safety
The construction industry maintains a sharp focus on safety. In the average year, construction is one of the most dangerous careers. Roughly one out of every 10 construction workers gets injured every single year. For context, the construction industry as a whole employs more than 11.2 million people in the United States alone.
The focus for subcontractors going into 2021 and even beyond will always be primarily on safety. Moving into the new year doesn’t change that fact, nor should it. Preventing the Fatal Four — the four most common accidents on construction sites, according to OSHA — could save more than 500 lives every year.
Extreme weather hazards
The past year also showcased some extreme weather conditions in various parts of the country. Northern California underwent a series of wildfires. Hurricanes of different strengths struck Texas and Louisiana repeatedly, and a massive inland storm known as a derecho did millions of dollars’ worth of damage to structures in Iowa.
Climate change fuels many of these severe weather events, and the trend will likely continue in the same direction as the planet continues to get hotter. While there is no way to prevent these natural disasters, subcontractors need to be aware of them and how they might impact their business in the coming year.
The exact details of this challenge will vary depending on location. For now, subcontractors endure an always-challenging winter season on top of other business pressures. As always, preparing for delays and managing safety concerns continues to be crucial.
Growing supply chain challenges
Supply chains also proved challenging throughout 2020, with companies both small and large struggling to obtain the materials they need to complete their projects and meet their deadlines. The global pandemic of 2020 made that even more challenging.
Suppliers and subcontractors found themselves forced to shut down as the rest of the world came to grips with the pandemic. Things are becoming more manageable, but while the industry waits for things to start going back to normal, supply chain challenges will still be an issue throughout 2021 for contractors and subcontractors alike.
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Moving the industry forward through 2021
The world as a whole is hoping 2021 will be a bit less stressful and more lucrative, but there are still some challenges for subcontractors on the horizon. Companies will need to be adaptable and as flexible as possible to ensure supply chain concerns and COVID restrictions don’t impact their business in the coming year.
Evelyn Long is the editor of Renovated, a resource for construction and home professionals. She focuses on workforce and safety concerns for home builders and contractors. She can be reached at [email protected].