Dean Willemsen, who heads commercial building company Primebuild, is well aware that his sector has taken a bit hit to confidence under Covid, but he’s among some smart operators that are taking the chance to retool the way they do business.

While the pipeline looks quite strong in the months ahead for Willemsen’s business, April has been particularly slow, he tells The Fifth Estate. So why not use the slow down to “renovate” the business?

“It’s been a huge opportunity… every business fantasises about getting a break from business as usual to work on the business,” he says.

Primebuild, which is neither a “a massive company nor a tiny one”, does a lot of work in education and retail, so Willemsen says work has been “all over the place”.

Government support packages offer hope but there’s no way of telling what will happen in the months and years ahead, with project pipelines the “big question mark”.

The team has used this time to take stock and identify areas for change, which includes doubling down on technology to streamline processes.

One big change is introducing some online training modules to enable better learning and career progression for staff.

The company has also signed up to use LaborChart, a US-based workforce management platform that will allow the company to track resources, contractors and all the other many moving parts of a construction project to reduce “waste of human effort”.

The business also wants to slash the amount of waste it sends to landfill so is introducing better management and tracking of waste management functions.

Confidence in the construction industry has taken a bit hit

Willemsen’s business is not alone in feeling the pinch.

A benchmark report released last week by Procore Technologies, says 39 per cent of construction companies are using this slower period to update technologies, systems and processes.

It’s no secret that the building and construction industry overall has been slow to adapt to a digital world but now, thanks to the economic lull created by the coronavirus providing some badly needed “reflection time”, there’s a pick up in the embrace of technological change.

The report, based on research conducted by ACA Research last month, found that 48 per cent of companies are using technology to manage risk on site and 38 per cent are using technology to improve productivity.

Around 30 per cent are using technology to reduce the volume of materials that need to be held on construction site.

The research also identified the extent of the loss of confidence.

It found that at the start of the year 69 per cent of construction companies were confident about industry business conditions but this has dropped to 43 per cent just two months later.

The number construction projects is expected to drop by 34 per cent overall.

But bigger companies expect to be better insulated and some are anticipate a small 6 per cent increase in work.

Total value of construction projects is expected to drop by 33 per cent, with commercial and industrial projects likely to see the biggest drop at 19 per cent.

One in four small construction companies are responding to the hard times by cutting staff wages to the minimum JobKeeper allowance. However, highly paid workers in larger companies are also taking home a reduced pay cheque, with 55 per cent of companies reducing remuneration for business owners and/or senior executives.

Subcontractors are also taking a hit, with 41 per cent of businesses using fewer subcontractors on site.

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