The Road Ahead Beyond Pandemic and Shutdowns

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As America comes back, examining different sectors provides key insights as to those that may be integral to the rebound.  What we learn from this process allows the nation not only to return to work but also sketch a roadmap for future job growth, environmental stewardship and safety.

Among the sectors leading the way is the design and construction community. This industry is a key component of any recovery because its supplies services to a cross-section of America, both public and private sector, from road, bridges, dams, to power grids, manufacturing, industrial, water treatment and residential.  A newly-released APCO Insight survey indicates that 95 percent of the U.S. public thought it very or somewhat important “for the U.S. to continue to invest in its infrastructure” emerging from the shutdown.  

As an example, the construction industry is responsible for the creation and maintenance of key sustainable environmental projects; which if cancelled or delayed could potentially mean lack of remediation to water, air and other hazardous challenges that may risk the well-being of the public.  Therefore, finding ways to keep the workforce safe and the projects continuing has important societal benefits.

Consequently, the architectural, engineering and construction industry as a whole is a broad barometer of the nation’s health and prosperity; while also playing a vital role with regard to global competitiveness, economic growth, environmental sustainability, and national security, as well as assuring the extraordinary quality of life enjoyed by so many Americans.

Moreover, a robust construction and design industry can help lead the nation out of the current difficulties with a wide array of skilled craft trades and/or professional positions. As a highly labor-intensive sector of our economy, the industry offers good paying jobs and career paths in communities of all sizes across the country; including prime opportunities for women, minority populations, and those who are economically disadvantaged. Most positions don’t require four-year college degrees, and some will pay while you are an apprentice or trained on the job. The same APCO survey finds 90 percent of Americans agreed “apprenticeships & credentialing programs can lead to good paying jobs and career paths.”

APCO’s new polling results also show high concern among Americans due to COVID19’s impact on small businesses – even more so than the impact on the overall economy. (64% vs. 55% very concerned).  Construction, architectural and engineering companies are predominantly small business entities.  These companies are part of the fabric of main street America and represent a vital part of the nation’s economy for which the public is worried.

The design and construction industry has elevated safety to the highest levels over the last decade. This includes instituting a cultural paradigm shift within the companies to a zero-tolerance injury and incident-free workplace going beyond just adherence to OSHA rules and regulations. The “safety first mindset” enabled project managers to seamlessly adopt COVID19 health and safety best practices and protocols.

In any future pandemic, it will be private sector businesses that will show how to safely stay open while securing their supply chains, and meeting their customers’ needs. Going forward this will mean creating new norms that will include all stakeholders (management, employees, clients and even competitors) partnering with the public sector to ensure the economy and our society are prepared to face any pandemic challenges.

As we have discovered over the past few months, this industry has shown that staying open safely can lead many sectors - from energy to transportation – to continue serving the public. The health and well-being of a nation and its people depends on finding the right balance between public health as well as a functioning society and economy.

Mark A. Casso is President at the Construction Industry Round Table; and Jack Kalavritinos is Senior Director at APCO Worldwide.

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