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5 Major Problems in the Construction Industry [2023 Updated]

Last Updated on April 17, 2023 by Admin

From deteriorating infrastructure in the United States to the explosion of urban housing and office demand in China, the construction industry is poised for significant worldwide growth.


In fact, according to the consulting firm Accenture, by 2020, construction activities in emerging markets will account for 55% of global output and touch USD 6.7 trillion.

This is incredibly promising, not just for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) space, which will — quite literally — ‘build’ the output, but aftermarket players too, such as the local property management company, asbestos abatement contractors, and others.

However, though a promising outlook, the AEC industry will have challenges in making the most out of the upturn in infrastructure demand. We examine 5 of these problems below:


1. Poor Productivity

This occurs from a wide range of issues, including:

  • idle time due to late or insufficient supply shipments;
  • construction vehicles breaking down;
  • frequent inclement weather;
  • design complications arising midway during construction;
  • friction between the different stakeholders (e.g., owner and contractor);
  • and others.

 Though poor productivity cuts across many areas, the net result is invariably the same: dwindling profitability and rising costs. Thus, despite the demand potential for new construction projects worldwide, AEC businesses will face the same old problems.

The impact of these issues will affect AEC companies in various ways.

For example, established players might falter against newer competitors, especially the AEC giants of China, the top four of which earned a combined $238.5 billion in 2010.

On the other hand, smaller or newer entrants may find it more challenging to gain traction. With fewer resources on hand, these small AEC businesses will have trouble matching the pricing and pace of their larger competitors.

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2. Rising Cost of Materials

Be it tariffs, trade conflicts, inflation, or increasing global demand, the cost of construction materials is rising. Between 2017 and 2018, material costs rose 5.3% (ABC).

According to the chart below (courtesy of Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.), except for softwood lumber and crude petroleum, the cost of all other primary construction materials resources rose between 2017 and 2018.

Moreover, the most significant year-over-year (YoY) increases were in steel mill products (such as beams, pipes, plates, etc.) and iron and steel at 19.8% and 17.6%, respectively.

problems faced in construction

(Courtesy of ABC)

The macro (combing all materials) long-term trend for costs is climbing upward, but the micro (individual materials) short-term trends are unpredictable.

Returning to ABC’s chart above, you will see month-over-month price decreases in multiple areas. This unpredictability is causing problems for developers in terms of their ability to budget correctly and offer accurate pricing in their bids.


3. Poor Project Performance

The factors above have two significant impacts on the performance of construction projects: the risk of going over budget and the risk of failing to deliver within specified timelines.

 Going Over Budget

 Rising and volatile costs and productivity issues force large or capital infrastructure projects to exceed budgets.
According to a KPMG survey, 31% of contractors managed to remain within 10% of their budget. Furthermore, only 32% of project owners maintained a “high level of trust in their contractors,” while 69% of owners pinned “poor contractor performance” as the “biggest reason for project underperformance.”
Failing to Deliver on Time

The same KPMG survey found that only 25% of construction projects came within 10% of their specified deadlines.

The cause of this is manifold. It can result from specific productivity problems, such as frequent inclement weather, or systemic issues, such as trade wars.

For example, the tariffs on Chinese steel are not just driving up costs but also putting projects at risk of delays and supply shortages.

These issues slow down projects, but they also force labor and machinery to become idle, which harms productivity and results in additional costs for the contractor.

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4. Skilled Labor Shortages

The surge in new construction demand is generating demand for employment. In the US, for example, the construction industry employs 7.2 million professionals, which constitute “the highest levels since the Great Recession of 2008” (Deloitte).

lack of skilled labor in construction

(Source: PwC)

However, it is unclear if there is sufficient labor to support growth. According to the Deloitte study cited above, since 2014, “the number of jobs openings have almost doubled, the number of hires over the same period has just increased by 14 percent.


The drawback of lacking skilled labor is that it affects your output and ability to meet deadlines, which puts you at risk of falling behind your competitors.

The labor gap cuts across multiple areas, including mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers, civil engineers, architects, skilled trades, HVAC technicians, and plumbing. A company with a weak talent roster will struggle against more robust competitors.

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5. Sustainability & Efficiency

The United Nations (UN) stated that the building industry possessed the “most potential for delivering significant and cost-effective GHG (greenhouse gas) emission reductions.” The UN added that the sector can cut a potential 84 giga-tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

This will be essential as energy efficiency gains will help lower long-term operating costs and emissions. Likewise, a switch to some sustainable building materials may help offset the demand for certain steel products and other resource-intensive supplies.

A vital aspect of that switch is embracing essential industry standards, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). However, aligning with industry standards (such as LEED) is not a trivial feat.

LEED Adoption in the US & Beyond

leed construction standards

(Source: Construction Citizen)

Many AEC companies will require overcoming a learning curve, including building design, materials sourcing, and construction methods. For example, building an energy-efficient HVAC could require installing underfloor air distribution systems.

There will be added costs to each area, which may strain smaller AEC players and put them at a disadvantage against their larger competitors. 

Many of these problems are not in their direct control to be fair to the construction industry.
The decision to remove tariffs belongs to governments, while economic factors drive material costs.

However, AEC businesses can rein in on specific areas, such as building contingencies for material supply issues or better managing their machines and workers to prevent idling. Critical components of these solutions involve building information modeling and simulation for optimizing resource usage.

Author bio: 

Liz Hayford spent over half a decade working in construction, environmental contracting, and architecture. Besides learning and implementing new construction technologies and trends, writing and teaching about recent construction trends is her passion.

At Ferro Canada Inc., Liz helps produce and edit content related to commercial & residential construction, hazardous materials, construction site tips, architecture, and much more.


What are the major problems in construction?

The major problems in construction include safety concerns, quality control issues, cost overruns, project delays, labor shortages, and environmental sustainability concerns.

What are 4 major challenges facing the construction industry?

The four major challenges facing the construction industry are labor shortages, rising material costs, regulatory compliance, and the need for innovation and digital transformation.

What is the most important challenge that the construction industry is facing right now?

The most important challenge that the construction industry is facing right now is the ongoing labor shortage. There is a lack of skilled labor in the construction industry, which is leading to project delays, cost overruns, and safety concerns. This challenge is compounded by the fact that the demand for construction work is increasing, while the available workforce is not growing at the same rate.

What are the top safety concerns in the construction industry?

Some of the top safety concerns in the construction industry include falls from heights, electrical hazards, struck-by incidents, caught-in/between incidents, and respiratory hazards. Inadequate safety training, lack of protective equipment, and poor communication on the worksite can contribute to these hazards.

What are some of the environmental impacts of the construction industry?

The construction industry has significant environmental impacts, such as carbon emissions from building materials production and construction activities, destruction of natural habitats, and pollution from construction site runoff. The industry can mitigate these impacts by adopting sustainable building practices, such as using renewable energy sources, reducing waste and recycling, and implementing green building standards.

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