What will the built environment sector look like in 2030? DAN COOK and CHEVON ERASMUS PORTER take a look.

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How will the built environment sector shape where we will live? What skills will the sector need to be relevant in a changing world? How do we proactively respond to challenges that are almost impossible to anticipate?

These are a few of the questions facing the built environment sector and professionals across the globe. It is for this reason that RICS decided in 2010 to include strategic foresight in its planning and engagement with stakeholders internationally. Our ultimate goal is to play a leading part in taking responsibility for the future of the profession.

Our first research, completed in 2011, used foresight through a range of techniques including horizon scanning, scenario planning and simulation to create and consider a range of alternate futures, all possible. The future may be inescapable, but it can be shaped by those who think about it today. In other words, to shape the future you must first imagine it.

We are now taking the next step on that journey. After looking at the future scenarios the sector may face in land, real estate, infrastructure and construction, we have sought direct input from a range of industry leaders, practitioners, students and firms across our sector. We have sought their help to identify where the most significant changes are occurring, to identify the drivers and trends with the greatest implications for the surveying profession and the wider built environment sector we operate within. From greater urbanisation to resource scarcity, there are many risks and opportunities in a changing sector that is feeling the effects of a changing world. The drivers and trends we are seeing with greatest impact on the sector include:

1. Greater urbanisation and changing demographics
At present, 54% of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, this is expected to rise to 66%. The rapid growth in urbanisation globally will impact on how new infrastructure is delivered, how cities are planned for future growth and what professional skills are required to feed this demand. Ageing of established economies and youth population booms in Africa will also change demands on use of the built environment.

2. Shift in economic power
We are beginning to see clear shifts in economic power, especially with the emergence of the BRICS group of countries that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The group is fast moving beyond political linkages and is now establishing its own financial institution called the New Development Bank (formerly known as the BRICS Development Bank), which will be based in Shanghai.

The future may be inescapable, but it can be shaped by those who think about it today. In other words, to shape the future you must first imagine it.

In each fast-growing economy there are many new companies and institutions now participating in regional and global economies. Massive infrastructure projects are planned in China and India, with a growing middle class driving demand. The BRICS as a political and economic player, and other rising markets, will continue to grow in impact and influence for the built environment sector and the professionals who advise on asset development and management.

3. Growing middle class
A growing middle class means growth in consumption. This will trigger the need for more housing, and better planning in cities to accommodate more vehicles on the road and infrastructure for retail or business developments. A study by Oxford Economics expects construction output by 2025 to grow by as much as 70% to US$15 trillion. Notably, China and India, with growing middleclass populations, are expected to contribute to one-third of this output.

4. Inequality and instability
Notwithstanding the various global efforts at reducing poverty, the wealth gap remains and is on the rise. The world’s financial sector met to discuss inclusive capitalism earlier in 2014. The growing wealth gap is without doubt a contributing factor to unrest and volatility around the world. And with almost 70% of the world’s wealth bound up in real assets, our sector has a critical role in ensuring quality housing and infrastructure, as well as strong ethical principles for the profession, especially since the global financial crisis. Building trust and ensuring better outcomes for society are themes we expect to see continue to rise up the economic and social agenda in the period to 2030.

5. Greater resource scarcity and growing importance of sustainability
In many parts of the world, resources that were largely taken for granted have come under increasing pressure. Whether it is water, food, minerals or energy, the issue of resource management is crucial for economic development. Against the rising population and demand for new development, our profession has the ability to lead on addressing the challenge of resource scarcity by promoting better use of land and agricultural management, and advising on the most efficient ways to manage resources in the built environment.

The built environment professional of the future
Surveying may have a long history, but roles are continuously changing to adapt to our changing world. Technological advances will mean major change for many individuals as they replace certain tasks and transform building processes to improve efficiency and productivity. Big data, complex projects and the need for collaboration will drive new sets of skills needs. On top of this change the cyclical nature of many parts of our sector – construction, sale of properties, resource booms and greater global mobility – will all throw up challenges for employers trying to meet skills needs. Recent research by RICS/SCSI has shown the loss of employment in Ireland following the most recent global financial crisis, with construction’s share of employment dropping from 12% to around 6% of total employment. Attracting skilled professionals back will be a continuing challenge in future years. To help meet the range of challenges and opportunities for the future, we have started thinking about the areas our sector could focus on:
■ War for talent: How do we attract the next generation of professionals, retain that talent, promote diversity and ensure that the right education is available to meet our sector’s needs?
■ Future cities: How does our sector contribute to reforming land use planning, integrating smart technology, building resilience, helping to define the economic and social purpose of place making, and delivering affordable community infrastructure?
■ Embracing technology and big data: Our goal must be to create new value through the integrating of data sets, building analytical capability and embedding new technology by changing systems and processes. Our profession needs to place itself at the forefront of change and help to change mindsets.
■ Leadership: Leadership is needed across the land, real estate and construction sectors, including representation at board level, a stronger voice in government and collaboration across professional bodies.
■ Ethics: The issue of ethics is becoming a critical part of professional behaviour and is an area where more work is needed. RICS has recently launched, with a coalition of partners, the International Ethics Standards, which aims to create a set of global ethics principles for the profession.

A view expressed many times to our project team is that a stronger commitment to sustainability from our sector is needed to bring about positive change. This might be action by our industry’s leaders, greater convergence standards and measurement, and through smarter government policy interventions and direction. Already we have held more than 100 round tables, workshops and interviews with professionals with varying experience levels, expertise and across a multitude of different geographies in Asia, South Asia, Africa, the United States, Europe and South America. More than 500 people have joined these events and/or provided contributions to our project. Together we can respond to these challenges and ensure that our sector and professions are equipped to be successful in a fast-paced changing global environment. If you would like to help please get in touch at futures@rics.org.

Layout 1Layout 1Dan Cook and Chevon Erasmus Porter
Dan is Director of Strategy, and Chevon is Communications and External Affairs Adviser, RICS.