Creating a stable future for our industry

In this Comment piece, Robert Candy, CEO of the Scaffolding Association, talks about the next steps for our industry.

Business owners are faced with a range of challenges in their role, none more so demanding than the those that have arisen during the current national pandemic. Once again we find ourselves operating within changing guidelines that are inconsistent, not just across our devolved nations, but across county lines where there may be local lockdown restrictions in force.

It would be naïve of us to think that industry will ever operate like it did before the pandemic – there have been fundamental changes to the way in which we now work that will most likely continue to be commonplace in the future. We have had to implement more flexible working methods and adapt our businesses to ensure that we can survive the effects of COVID-19.

Many construction sites are now live again and there are concerted efforts by industry to ensure that suitable health and safety measures are implemented so that we can protect employees and prevent the spread of the virus. It is important that we continue to put our people before profit as they remain our biggest asset.

However, there is a balance to be had in ensuring that businesses remain secure and can continue to operate into the future.

For most businesses there has been no immediate shortage of work and many have remained operational on some level. We could attribute this to the first three months of lockdown creating a backlog of work on projects that are now going ahead, or it could be the promised large injections of funding from Government on infrastructure projects that have bolstered the sector so far.

However, we must be mindful of the longer-term effects that our sector will face.

Late payments were already an issue within the industry and measures such as the Job Retention Scheme and the option to defer VAT have relieved some of the cash flow pressures businesses have faced. But these schemes are now coming to an end, and although there is some help available via Local Authority grants and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, these measures alone cannot generate long term stability.

No business wants to become involved in costly and lengthy contractual disputes, but it is reasonable to assume that the next 12 months will become increasingly litigious for contractors as money remains tight for all parties. Continuing to be vigilant and addressing potential contractual issues early will be key to emerging the other side of COVID-19 with business security.

The skills gap in our sector continues to widen, and investment in training will have sadly slipped down the list of priorities for most businesses. Before COVID-19 the training requirements of our industry were not being fully met, and with an increasing number of centres closing this does not bode well for the future. Having scaffolders with the right training and skill set is vital to continued success and maintaining high standards of safety and workmanship.

Now is the time for us to shift our focus from short term survival to long term stability and ensure that our sector is stronger and more resilient for the future.

Robert Candy

CHIEF EXECUTIVE; Scaffolding Association