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The construction industry must build back better in 2021.

Michael Chesterman
Michael Chesterman January 15, 2021

Emerging from the ruins of 2020, the construction industry has a unique opportunity to reset how it operates by establishing improved business and client relationships.

I initially canvased this matter in an article published May 2020 entitled A fairer and better construction industry is feasible if we change our thinking’. In the article, I outlined seven major changes I would like to see take place, namely:

1. Governments must entrust the industry to reshape itself.

2. Clients must cease being unduly focused on ‘the cheapest price’.

3. There must be the appropriate allocation of contractual risk.

4. There must be a much greater emphasis on settling disputes.

5. Industry supply chains must be reviewed to ensure there are alternatives.

6. The industry ceases dragging its feet and commences embracing opportunities arising from the fourth industrial revolution.

7. The industry keeps a close eye on future opportunities arising from the fifth industrial revolution.

Since publishing this earlier article I have given further thought to this matter and believe that there also needs to be:

8. Additional transparency in terms of parties’ ethics and beliefs that underpin their operations. I look to what extent contractors genuinely buy into ensuring all their people and other parties work in a safe environment. For me, environmental responsibility is a close second.

9. Greater honesty and adherence by all parties to the principle of fairness, particularly regarding contract arrangements.

10. Sustainability for all parties.

I know the cynical ones of you will be just rolling their eyes and saying, ‘dream on Chesterman’. That is okay, but, I challenge you disbelievers to convince me and many others that everything is fine and things should just return to pre-COVID-19 operations.

I am not alone in advocating for a post-COVID-19 reset of the industry. In a conversation I had with Jon Davies, CEO of the Australian Contractors’ Association, as part of our ‘Essential Series’, he expressed similar views.

Read Jon’s article entitled “Construction 4.1 The case for an urgent COVID-19 reboot of the construction industry”, mentioned in the video above here.

Final thoughts.

To build back better we need a new way of thinking and we cannot afford to sit back and simply wait for the Government to resolve the entire road map.  I agree that working with government is crucial, but I think it is about time the industry stop such heavy reliance on regulation to bring about something “better”.  We should want better, and we can come together to achieve it.

Jon Davies also echoed this point on the Essential Series where he made the case that legislation should be a last resort to resolving industry problems.

The industry, comprising of all the different parties, must accept responsibility for the delivery of projects that are contemporary, fit for purpose, and clearly meet all contractual requirements and regulatory standards.

As a collective whole, the industry must lift the bar in terms of striving to deliver project outcomes that do not just satisfy basic regulatory and contractual requirements during their build.

It is in the best interests of the industry to accept the challenge to build back better. Striving for excellence should be the principal characteristic of the industry in 2021. This is an opportunity for the industry to take responsibility for achieving such an outcome.

I do not see it the responsibility of governments to achieve such better build outcomes. Governments, through their various regulatory bodies, enforce legislation and policies that in the main represent basic, standard requirements, practices, and standards. The various industry regulators play a vital role in overseeing the industry and I fully support all appropriate and reasonable forms of regulation. However, as perhaps best evidenced by the contractor licensing regimes in the various states, these requirements are of a minimum nature.

Clients or other contractors can rightly obtain a degree of satisfaction from the fact that a contractor they are considering engaging, if appropriately licensed, has satisfied technical, financial and experience requirements, as well as been a ‘Fit and Proper’ person.  However, in no sense should these licensing requirements be viewed as some form of ‘best practice’ guarantee.

During 2021, I will be writing many articles picking up on the themes and thoughts I have outlined in this article. Also, I will be talking to industry leaders on a wide range of issues, along the lines of last year’s well-received Facebook live ‘Essential Series’, but we have bigger and better plans for this year.

Finally, on behalf of everybody from Helix Legal, we wish you all a safe and prosperous 2021. This is a great industry with overwhelming great and committed people working in it and I look forward to emerging from my home bunker post-COVID-19 and catching up with a lot of you.

Not intended as legal advice. Read full disclaimer.
Michael Chesterman
Michael Chesterman January 15, 2021

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