Invest in technology, productivity and sustainability, says Fergus Harradence, Deputy Director of Construction for the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He will speak at the CIOB’s Adapt & Thrive conference on March 24th.

The UK construction sector has done an excellent job in the pandemic, introducing new on-site procedures that will allow the entire supply chain to continue operating to make a significant contribution to the national pandemic. This has been achieved while largely avoiding significant outbreaks of Covid-19 on construction sites.

The challenge now is to maintain these high security standards, especially with the advent of new and more contagious varieties.

The headwind cannot be ignored. In addition to Covid-19, there have also been some disruptions in the delivery of imported products caused by problems in the global shipping industry due to a reduced number of ships and the new customs procedures introduced at the end of the Brexit transition period.

Work has declined in some parts of the industry, especially hospitality and leisure. Hopefully, a combination of the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines and companies learning about the new procedures will resolve these issues.

Our view into the future

In the medium to long term, the industry is faced with the need to adopt new technologies, techniques and work practices based on digital and external manufacturing in order to improve its productivity, the sustainability of its operations and the quality of its results.

This requires significant investments in capital goods, training and capacity building in the workforce.

The industry must also prepare for longer-term structural shifts in demand. For example, building fewer offices or recreational facilities but finding more work to retrofit homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Ultimately, the industry must prepare for government and other customers who are demanding infrastructures and buildings that contain and emit much less carbon, have higher standards of building safety and information about buildings, and maximize their contribution to achieving a broader social and economic environment UK value.

How should companies prepare?

The Construction Playbook, released in December, contains an ambitious vision of how the government intends to reset its ties with the construction industry.

Central government customers are providing greater visibility into project pipelines and building closer relationships with the supply chain based on longer-term contracts and more collaborative contract structures.

In return, we seek better information flow throughout the supply chain, the use of should-cost modeling (SCM) and benchmarking to underpin a more honest dialogue about project costs and ensure the industry can achieve a fair profit margin.

The aim is also to ensure fairer contractual conditions throughout the supply chain, better payment methods and better risk management, as well as avoiding problems from escalating into disputes or resolving them quickly.

It also outlines how the government will challenge the industry to achieve better social value and use new technology to achieve this and improve its performance. The topics in the playbook are relevant to the entire industry and provide examples of what companies should do to prepare for the future.

What is the industry holding back?

The main obstacles to the advancement of the industry are its structure and also its controversial culture.

The future is more collaborative, with closer relationships between customers and companies across the construction supply chain, greater transparency and information sharing, and an industry where most of the infrastructure and new buildings will be manufactured and will be part of a digitized built environment.

The industry needs to better understand what contribution it can make to society and how it can maximize it, invest in improving its ability to innovate and use new technologies and techniques, increase its diversity, improve its skill levels and competency, and deliver better professional ones and mental health care for everyone in the industry.

One way to the future

The Transforming Construction Challenge, a £ 420 million industry-government innovation partnership that is part of the Construction Sector Agreement, supports the development of a wide range of innovations and related approaches and techniques.

It has supported the use of AI to improve project planning and execution, digital platforms that help SMEs use modern building methods, and new manufacturing techniques for making houses and other buildings, including pioneering the use of product platforms (common sets of Components). for built assets, an approach that has been very successful in the automotive sector.

In parallel, the Construction Innovation Hub has developed an approach to define what constitutes value, to expand the focus of procurement away from the cost of capital, and is also working on how quality management approaches can be embedded in the implementation of construction projects.

Many companies of all sizes are improving their performance. Covid-19 has asked many to rethink their business processes and on-site operations and adapt them to improve productivity in order to close the production gap created by the need for safer work practices.

In parallel, we see companies large and small adopting new technologies and investing in the skills of their workforce, or hiring people from other sectors, whether IT or manufacturing, to bring new ideas and skills to the company.

These trends are good, but they need to be embedded and accelerated to realize the full value of the industry and its production.

Image by Max Langelott / Unsplash

  • The one-day Adapt & Thrive virtual conference on Wednesday March 24th will feature speakers from industry, government, technology and other influencers who share their vision for an agile and productive construction industry. Find out more and register here.