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Back to the future

In difficult economic times it is tempting for marketers to keep their head down and focus on immediate challenges, but there will be a future and it needs planning for now.

In a bold move, the ECA and NICEIC have joined together to produce 2021 Vision: The Future of the Electrical Contracting Industry.

The objective is to examine current trends in both product development and government legislation to signpost what the market is likely to look like in 2021.

Although written for the electrical contracting industry, much of what the report has to say is relevant to the whole construction industry.

It’s been a turbulent time since 2008 with much change and uncertainty, and as the organisation rightly point out, it is time for contractors to stop reacting and get back to planning for the future.

There will be a merging of skills and trades - for example, should solar panels be fitted by a roofer or an electrician? If we use two trades to do this work it will be unnecessarily expensive.

There are plenty of other examples of how new products and systems are leading to a crossover of skills. Contractors need to adapt to this and find new ways of working.

Continuing that theme, if the industry is going to meet the government’s challenge of taking cost out of construction it needs to work together differently.

Simplifying the construction process and reducing times to complete projects will be key - and much better than just reducing already slim margins.

There are many new products being introduced which reduce installation time but there is slow adoption because of a cost-plus mentality.

A greater customer focus is also important. Granted, it is difficult to build relationships with some clients, as was highlighted in a recent roundtable feature in Construction News.

But others such as the Highways Agency do recognise the value of early contractor involvement. And at the micro-level, when dealing with the small client and homeowner, it is important to make the client feel important and cared for. This is an opportunity for consultative selling - giving free expert advice which can lead to further work.

And let’s not forget the ‘s’ word - sustainability. It now touches all aspects of the construction industry and has the potential to provide us with a lot of work in the future. So make sure you understand how it affects you and spot the opportunities for to add value to you business offering.

2021 Vision is a must-read if you work in electrical contracting, but it is also useful background information for everyone working in the construction industry. It can be downloaded from here.

Chris Ashworth is founder of Competitive Advantage Consultancy (, which provides strategic marketing services to the construction industry. He is a member of the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG -


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