construction 2020

Reflections on Construction in 2020

To say that 2020 has been an unusual year would be an understatement. Not just for the construction industry, but for all of us around the world. Despite the challenges, things are not entirely doom and gloom. We have all learned in one way or another from the COVID-19 experience. Sometimes we need a challenge to force us to think about alternative ways of doing things.

COVID-19 and the Construction Industry

In many countries, construction was exempt from lock-downs and the like. Projects have continued. Albeit with the introduction of social distancing and other health and safety measures.

Having said that, many companies are still feeling the financial consequences of COVID-19. There has been a general turndown of work and resultant job losses. It seems likely that less new projects will be coming on stream.

COVID-19 – Rights and Remedies

The consultancy practice which I am involved with worked with several clients to examine their contracts. Most asking us to advise them on their rights and remedies in relation to COVID-19. I also carried out an investigation into interpreting the FIDIC contracts with regard to COVID. The results were generally that entitlement exists to the contractor to claim for an extension of time. In some cases, additional costs associated with change of law may be applicable.

COVID-19 related claims require a completely different approach to the usual extension of time claims. Delays giving rise to conventional extensions of time generally only directly affect one, or a small number of programmed activities. In some cases COVID-19 affected hundreds of activities on one programme. We therefore had to think out of the box when considering which form of delay analyses to adopt in order to demonstrate the effects on the completion date.

Our approach led to our clients achieving extensions of time on two projects as a result of the first interim claims. All this with no further negotiation and no requests for additional particulars.

A Different Way of Doing Things

Before COVID-19, many people did not like conference calls and would only consider face-to-face meetings. Before 2020 I was often packing my bag and travelling between countries for client meetings or to present training courses.

Invariably, when working with local and even some overseas clients, meetings would be on site or at the client’s offices. I was frequently obliged to drive for 1½ hours to the client’s office to attend a 30 minute meeting and then drive for 1½ hours back to my office. It seems crazy now to think we would spend 3½ hours in the car to achieve 30 minutes’ work.

COVID-19 has forced us to change our mentality. These days, I hardly ever leave the office. Video conferences have become the new normal. Having said that, after staying in the same place for 10 months now, I’m itching for the opportunity to travel somewhere, but we can’t have everything!

The rise of Zoom

The nature of our consultancy work means that we have always had staff working remotely. Keeping in touch via conference calls was fairly common. But now client meetings take place via video conferencing, taking far less time out of our day. Even arbitration and dispute hearings are being held by video conferencing.

Seminars and conferences are now also held by video conference. I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on contracts for the Big 5 Conference which, this year, was branded as The Big 5 Global Digital Festival. The panel recorded the discussion by video conference, which was then transmitted at the scheduled time. After transmission, the panel joined the conference for a live Q&A session.

Claims Class is currently engaged in providing Construction Claims training to more than 30 employees of a government department in East Africa. We are providing live tutorials and review sessions, including Q&A sessions all via video conferencing. Without video conferencing, this type of training would have required us to make eight trips to the country. This would obviously have financial implications, so clients are seeing a cost saving for in-house training.

Training and Education

Claims Class has seen its challenges during 2020. Company budgets have tightened. In-house company training is almost non-existent, as are students sponsored by their companies to take our courses.

However, the causes of disputes has not changed. International reports still cite lack of experience, qualifications and training when managing contracts as a major contributor. Inadequately expressed claims are routinely identified as the leading cause of disputes worldwide.

In light of this, I find cuts to training budgets to be very short-sighted view. Proper training in these areas would only increase company’s bottom line rather than reduce it. Spending a small amount on training, can invariably save much more through the avoidance of disputes. Companies often take a different view on cost versus value.

Maybe I’m just biased in favour of avoiding problems by employing properly qualified people for the job in hand.

It’s not all doom and gloom

On the other hand, because employment is uncertain and people find themselves with more spare time. We have seen an upturn in people who wish to improve their skills and knowledge. This leads to them gaining an advantage if they do come onto the job market. Claims Class training and certification gives our students the edge when it comes to finding new roles and career progression.

The Institute of Construction Claims Practitioners has also noticed an increase in membership applications. Job applicants are able to include ICCP membership on their CVs to demonstrate their knowledge and experience. This will give them an advantage when they are applying for new positions.

Claims Class has reacted to the changes that we experienced in 2020. We are currently working on a way to make our courses available to more people. To support you, we want to improve access to learning for those affected by COVID-19 and in countries where salaries dictate that the cost of training and education is an important consideration. In February 2021, we shall be launching a new way of training – we’ll be releasing details of this new course very soon.

Looking to 2021

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported Claims Class through 2020. We hope you all enjoy the festive season and hope to see you on a course with us very soon.

Find out more about our courses here.