Prof. Emmanuel Adinyira: What 24-hour economy and digitalisation could mean for construction industry (1)

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The two big candidates in this year’s presidential election have left no one in doubt as to the central theme of their campaign messages. Former President Mahama’s 24-hour economy has caught the attention of many just as Vice President Bawumia’s digitalisation agenda is equally popular among key sections of the electorates.

As a construction professional and an academic, I have listened with intense interest to the discussions around both policy positions and look forward to hearing more as the months turn to weeks, the weeks to days, and the days to hours to the decision day. I am particularly interested in how these policy positions will impact my beloved construction industry ( and quite frankly what should be the beloved industry of all of us.

I will tell you why I think it should collectively be our beloved industry. In this two-part article, my singular interest will be to force our issues into the discussions around these two policy positions. In this first part, I will elucidate on how important the construction industry is to our economic growth and how the problems in the industry are contributing to our poor economic performance and general living standards.

I will then dedicate the rest of this part 1 to what the 24-hour economy could mean for the industry. Part 2 will put the spotlight on the digitalization agenda and what that could also mean for the construction industry. At the end of part 2, I hope to convince both candidates to steal some notes from their opponent’s pages so that we from the construction industry, and you the end users of our products can have the benefits of these two game changers.

The construction industry is the sector of the economy that plans, designs, erects, maintains, repairs, and demolishes buildings and infrastructure that are essential for the long-term socio-economic development of our country and for enhancing the quality of our lives as  Ghanaians. It is central to any government’s agenda to improve our road, rail, and aviation networks; expand access to potable water; expand and upgrade power generation and transmission networks; expand access to internet and telecommunication; provide quality and affordable housing; improve health service delivery; and improve access to education.

The industry is responsible for capital formation and certainly is a significantly large sector of our economy. It generates employment and serves as a major employment multiplier. The industry has backward and forward linkage effects on several other sectors of our economy.  Because construction involves the use of land; materials; human resources; equipment and technology; finance; procedures and processes, government ministries and agencies have roles they play in its activities.

One could list examples like the Ministry of Works and Housing; the Ministry of Roads and Highways; the Ministry of Railways Development; the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources; the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Trade and Industries; the Ministry of Education; Ministry of Finance; the Ministry of Business Development; the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relation; the  Ministry of Trade and Industries, the Ministry of Business Development; the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources; the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation and the Ministry of Justice.

The industry, however, is bedeviled with several problems due to its weaknesses such as lack of adequate skilled manpower, inadequate equipment and technological base, poor regulation, and inadequate financing. Any government that seeks to improve the standard of living of its people cannot prioritize other sectors of its economy over its construction sector. This is why matters of the construction sector must feature prominently in the 24-hour economy discourse.                        

24-hour economy everywhere is seen as a direct response to the quest to overcome the restrictions of time. The concept necessitates working around the clock to satisfy human needs. It therefore deviates from the conventional 8-hour working day.

It directly increases productivity as human effort and technology are utilized all day. In Ghana, a few sectors have adopted to some extent this concept: healthcare services, some entertainment programs, hotels, restaurants, bars, and certain aspects of transportation, such as airports, security, and emergency response services, which operate on 8-hour shifts.

The 24-hour economy initiative signifies more than an adjustment in operational hours; it is a complete paradigm shift. Embracing this idea in the construction industry would mean construction sites efficiently operating all hours, optimizing resources, and reducing project durations. In simple terms what this means for construction is that for a particular project, a set of workers work for 8 hours, then another set comes for the next 8 hours, and this continues throughout the project duration.

This process may not just achieve a 200% increase in productivity but could also create an additional 200% increment in work opportunities for people. Imagine if this was the industry norm and not the rare situation we see with some big building and road projects. Imagine its effect on other stakeholders in the construction value chain.

Of course, concerns such as the negative impact on health and well-being and the disruption of traditional social patterns and family dynamics surround this idea but these arguments are not for a country with a very high unemployment rate, especially among the youth and its attendant problems.  I agree that the vision of a 24-hour economy while promising, is not without its hurdles.

Some have pointed to the demand for robust infrastructure to sustain continuous operations and its attendant logistical issues. 24-hour construction is what will build for us in record time that robust infrastructure base required. So if we have to start with some priority sectors, construction must certainly be one of such sectors.

The construction industry of The United Arab Emirates and China are good examples of how a 24-hour construction policy can translate into rapid development and economic growth. Implementing the 24-hour construction policy in Ghana could show the way for other countries in the global south. After all, Ghana has always shown the way for other countries in this region in some of her policy initiatives.

As Ghana strives for economic advancement, the construction industry stands as a key player in shaping the nation’s future. Embracing the principles of the 24-hour economy can propel Ghana’s construction sector into a new era of efficiency and growth. This undoubtedly reflective policy agenda holds profound implications for all sectors of the economy.

The 24-hour economy will be implemented within the context of other national development initiatives, such as education and training, health services, agriculture, the provision of affordable housing for workers, efficient public transport, and efficient justice delivery, among others. Given its characteristics such as location specificity, government as a major client, long period of gestation, public safety and health implications, and environmental impacts, the construction industry must stand at the forefront of embracing this policy.

Few sectors have such an impact on communities and people across the country or have the same potential to provide large numbers of high-skilled, well-paid jobs. Construction underpins our economy and society. The infrastructure development, rural industrialization, housing development agenda, and many others that will surely find space in manifestos and policy plans can only mean that the construction industry must be central to the discussions.

With the 24-hour economy initiative, Ghana has the opportunity to build a prosperous and sustainable construction landscape that contributes significantly to the nation’s overall economic development. , I therefore will encourage Former President Mahama, the flag bearer of the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to make a strong case in his party’s manifesto on how the construction industry will be involved in the 24-hour economy policy. The actors in this all-important industry stand ever ready to make our contributions.

The author, Emmanuel Adinyira is a Professor of Construction Project Management at KNUST, Kumasi Ghana. He is a Fellow of the Ghana Institute of Construction, a Professional Member of the Ghana Institution of Surveyors, and a Professional Engineering Technologist with the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Ghana.

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