Boom and Bust: Insulating Your Construction Career Against Cyclical Instability

Sam Phillips Posted by Sam Phillips on 8 September 2017 Comments

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We have all heard it countless times – construction is a cyclical industry. It booms and then it busts. The unemployment rate in construction also undulates precariously and probably takes the prize for being amongst the most unstable of all sectors. So, as a construction industry professional how can you keep succeeding in such a dynamic boom/bust environment, especially when it decides to pivot downwards?

Construction Employment in NZ

Construction in New Zealand is currently experiencing strong growth. The Future Demand for Construction Workers Report 2017, states that in the year to June, 18,200 new employees entered the building industry throughout New Zealand. This fortifies construction as the second largest contributor to annual employment growth in the country. What’s more, by 2022 the total number of people in the construction workforce is projected to grow by 56,000, or 10%, to 571,300.

Presently, there are many initiatives encouraging young workers to get into the construction industry. Campaigns such as ‘Got a Trade? Got it Made?’ target people aged 16-24, trying to raise the awareness of on-the-job training and careers in trades and services. Others, like the KeyStone Trust, offer tertiary studies in property via their charitable trust. Add to this apprenticeships from institutions such as BCITO, as well as open days, Trades academies and vocational pathways, and it is possible for anyone to take advantage of the available career opportunities in the construction sector.  

The emphasis, however, is to entice young people to get into construction, rather than focusing on their future and ongoing job security. Generally, initiatives to train people (such as apprenticeships or tertiary programs) are completed at the back end of a boom. So, when the industry winds down, we are left in a depleted market where countless skilled workers then find it tough to secure employment. To protect your skillset and be prepared for what the future holds, there are a few key things you can do to safeguard your construction career.

Keep up to Date and Keep Learning

As the old adage goes, ‘knowledge is power’ and one of the key rules of career progression is to keep abreast of all the latest developments in the industry. Successful people are always the first to highlight that it pays off to actively embrace professional development. Whether the industry falters or continues to grow, learning and upskilling will always improve your value to a prospective employer compared to someone that hasn’t done this.

Consider extra training, certifications or degrees, even if these are in another vocation within the industry. For example, trade skills could be supplemented by undertaking project management qualifications or gaining health and safety expertise or design knowledge.

Also, consider attending seminars or industry events, such as the Build Summit, where you can keep up to date with any changes and add weight to your knowledge base. Many government bodies and industry associations offer these throughout the year. Conferences are also a great way to meet like-minded individuals and to develop a diverse network of contacts which will help in building and promoting your career.

It can also be beneficial to speak to a professional who is an expert in the industry and has their ear to the ground, such as a specialist recruiter or mentor. By getting access to their insights and even industry connections, you will gain a greater scope of where the industry is headed and how best to align your goals for success.

Lastly subscribe to trade magazines, read content on relevant online forums and websites and utilise social networks such as LinkedIn for both insights and to find new contacts.

Multi-Skill and Multi-Discipline

Downturns sometimes only affect part of the sector, so often there will be opportunities to work in other areas of the industry or related sectors. For example, being able to manoeuvre from residential to commercial or from fit-outs to mixed-use projects will bode you well in any stage of a construction cycle.

To do this, generally, you need to have skills that are transferable or have managed to accumulate experience in the other areas of the industry. Outside of training, there are two core ways to do this:

When the industry is experiencing a boom, actively seek out work in an area of the sector where you don’t currently have experience. For example, if you’re a residential site manager, see if you can secure work in the commercial sector.

By proactively choosing to contract or consult you will naturally gain greater exposure to a broader variety of work. You’ll also get other benefits like increased flexibility and contract rates. Just remember that in bust times contractors or consultants are often the first to be let go.

Get Digital

Construction is no different to other industries. It is becoming increasingly technical and is embracing the digital revolution. Digitisation is ubiquitous and inevitable.

Businesses often run multiple projects or developments and they do so across numerous locations and teams. Having up to date information in a single place enhances productivity and value. What better way to stay ahead of future changes than to be part of that exact technology. Gain qualifications that provide exposure to new construction innovations such as next generation BIM, high definition surveying, IoT and advanced analytics or future-proof construction material.

Harnessing technologies have the potential to create time, cost and quality efficiencies across the design, construction, and retainment of a project. This will consolidate you as an asset within a team.

Summary

Even though the construction industry swings like a fickle pendulum, there are many ways to succeed, develop and insulate your career. By expanding and diversifying skills and attaining additional qualifications, you can take advantage of opportunities in different sectors. Always take steps to network and increase connections. You never know who can offer you a job in the future when the boom reverses. Taking such steps will reward you with an exciting and rewarding career in one of the most dynamic fields in our economy. If you’re looking to grow or safeguard your career, feel free to contact us so that we can help with taking those initial steps. 

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