No industry has been immune from the effects of COVID-19, but some have been more severely impacted than others.

There have been unique difficulties and questions arising in food manufacturing, for example, which has had to respond to volatile demand amid panic buying and unusual shopping activity caused by the pandemic.

Another sector that has experienced significant upheaval is construction. Like manufacturing, construction is an industry where people traditionally work in close proximity to one another, which raises concerns in light of the current physical distancing requirements.

Here are some of the key challenges businesses in this space are facing right now, and some advice on how to overcome them.

Working safely

Since the COVID-19 pandemic remains a very real threat to people's health, the first priority for all employers must be to ensure their staff are able to get back to work safely.

This will involve certain safety measures and protections being introduced on construction sites, such as securing a reliable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensuring workers are keeping a safe distance from one another whenever possible.

These will be considerable challenges for many businesses. A survey by industry bodies in the UK found that more than six out of ten (63%) construction firms were experiencing "sustained difficulty" obtaining FFP3 face masks for use on-site.

One possible solution to the difficulties employers are facing in this new environment is hiring staff who are given the specific task of ensuring that the business is adhering to safety protocols. Trained COVID safety checkers could be entrusted with making sure employees are using the right protective equipment and maintaining a safe distance from each other while working. A dedicated HR partner can help you find candidates with the right skills to do this job.

It could also prove beneficial to provide training and tests for your employees, to ensure they are up to date with the latest safety guidelines and regulations.

According to Accenture, construction businesses should be focused on 'smart operations' and finding 'new and safe ways of working'. As well as ensuring strict adherence to health and safety measures on-site, this entails enabling remote working wherever possible.

Only certain jobs can be carried out remotely in an industry like construction, of course, but it's worth considering how certain back office or support work could be moved off-site.

Deloitte also advised businesses to 'consider if the crisis can be used as a catalyst to rethink how work is done and to accelerate the adoption of digital capabilities'.

Making forward-thinking changes to how your workforce operates will help you deal with the immediate safety challenges of the pandemic, but could also put you in a stronger position to function in an efficient, cost-effective way in the future.

Securing skills

Construction is like every other industry in that you must be able to access key skills and talent to not only survive in 2020, but thrive in the years to come. There are various reasons why this is currently a challenge for businesses in this sector, some of which were present long before COVID-19 came along.

One of the most significant factors is an aging workforce. When the most experienced and capable members of staff are approaching retirement, you need to come up with a plan for replacing them. This is by no means easy, particularly in light of the so-called blue-collar drought that is affecting industries like construction and manufacturing.

The current health crisis has exacerbated the skills challenge for many employers. The general disruption and restrictions on movement created by the pandemic have made hiring more complicated, while sickness absence and layoffs have created gaps in the labor force.

Fortunately, there are solutions to these problems, such as leveraging the contingent workforce when you need to access skills at short notice, or for short-term projects.

Furthermore, the range of technologies and solutions on offer today make virtual candidate sourcing and recruitment a viable option for most organisations. The value of this approach has become clear in 2020.

The financial impact

HR, like every business department, finds itself having to overcome unprecedented obstacles in the construction sector, while also dealing with severe financial constraints.

Governments all over the world have been pouring huge amounts of money into economic aid schemes - such as the EU's recently agreed €750 billion rescue package - which means there is less money available for public construction projects like housing and infrastructure.

There could also be reduced demand for private schemes like office developments, owing to the economic headwinds currently facing businesses in so many sectors.

Against this challenging backdrop, it's clear that HR departments will need to achieve maximum efficiency in balancing their skills and hiring needs with financial priorities.

Working with a dedicated HR partner can help you meet this challenge and keep your recruitment costs down by achieving positive outcomes like lower staff turnover and high-quality hires.

Contact Randstad to learn more.