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Reviewing an unpredictable year

29 December 2021

Reviewing an unpredictable year

I’ve been looking back over the last 12 months’ blog posts on Alan Guthrie On Hire and it shows that the hallmark of 2021 was its unpredictability as Covid-19 continued to surprise and frustrate.

The year had started with the announcement of a third lockdown, with people instructed to stay at home, only venturing out for essential purposes or if they cannot work from home. 

In an earlier New Year message the Prime Minister had warned of “a hard struggle still ahead of us for weeks and months, because we face a new variant of the disease [Delta] that requires a new vigilance”. 

However, the blog highlighted the need for optimism as we now knew how to minimise the risks by wearing masks, socially distancing – and we had vaccines to combat the coronavirus. 

A huge confidence booster came at the end of January, when JCB anticipated “a continued solid recovery, with strong demand from mainland Europe and North America.” As a result it recruited more people to boost production, with more appointments in March, June and September

Two posts in February focused on aspects of new technology, one positive and the other negative. The former was Genquip Groundhog’s virtual showroom, enabling people to explore the company and its products via a dedicated and detailed website – a boon during lockdowns. 

The negative side was shown in a post on the scams and subterfuges to trick individuals and businesses out of considerable sums, and the need for cybersecurity.  

Indeed, a post in March reported the experiences of a hirer who fell victim to a particularly nasty scam and provided a warning to others. 

Another unpredictable aspect led to a story in April on the perennial topic of hire rates: with demand for equipment rocketing, supply of new models disrupted and high utilisation rates, why were some hirers cutting their rates?

And following on from stories of hirers facing such strong demand, a post in May asked whether personnel were busy or at risk of burnout, followed by a report in June on a topic that was a regular theme in 2021: the astonishing bounce-back in construction (particularly new housing) and the resultant squeeze on material supplies and prices.  

Unpredictability again came to the fore the following month, with what was dubbed Freedom Day on 19 July when the UK government announced the removal of legal controls and prohibitions and a shift towards personal responsibilities and judgements regarding measures like wearing a mask and socially distancing.

Yet it came at a time when coronavirus cases were rising because of the Delta variant. As that post concluded, “there is still much uncertainty and people must remain vigilant” – perhaps something to bear in mind as the new Omicron variant is spreading quickly as I write this. 

Nevertheless, businesses have to make forecasts – a task made extremely difficult owing to the pandemic. An August post discussed the challenge faced by one hirer that was typical of many: demand might be at record levels now, but how confident could you be that it would remain so? It was like playing poker

Still, many companies have flourished and continued to expansion, typified in two September stories: GAP’s plans to move to a spacious new Glasgow headquarters and Skipton Hire Centre (SHC)’s acquisition of Hartley Hire more than doubling its depot network.  

And, of course, nothing stays still or stays the same. Developing a topic mentioned previously on the blog focusing on new construction trends, a story on October reported on a new range of machines that JCB has developed to meet requirements of sites adopting MMC (modern methods of construction) techniques.  

Another ongoing challenge companies face is finding staff. A discussion in November with the Wilson Brook  executive recruitment consultancy highlighted issues such as record vacancy levels generally, higher wage expectations, a trend towards flexible working hours and expectations of employers taking steps to lower their carbon footprints were all areas that must be considered. 

And recognising the importance of green issues and the shift towards net zero, the blog successfully added the dedicated Site-Eco section in June. 

One of December’s stories rounded off 2021 by focusing on another area of unpredictability, the perennial issue of the weather. Met Office research suggests that extremes of weather are now much more likely. It asked whether hirers are ready to meet the likely demand for pumps, dryers, heaters and other essential items? 

Will 2022 bring more uncertainty and unpredictability? Time will tell. 

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