Along with about 500 industry delegates, I recently heard lots of interesting debates at the second annual North West Construction Summit, organised by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, at Old Trafford. We met to hear industry experts discuss how the region is going to grow while dealing with recurring industry issues to reach the Government’s ambitious Construction 2025 targets. The term ‘step change’ was mentioned a few times throughout the day - the industry needs a drastic one to reach the targets, and attract a new generation of willing and able workers.

Here are the main points that stuck with me from the day:

The way we work was a hot topic. Collaboration and innovation were the buzz words of the day, although they have been for a couple of years at least. Howard Bernstein, the Chief Executive for Manchester City Council said “science, innovation and technology are fundamental parts of how we continue to drive our economy forward.” Everyone agreed but 47% of delegates said they spent more time solving problems than on genuine innovation. As well as investment in research and development, we actively need to move from being reactive problem-solvers to proactive innovators. And collaborating with the supply chain is essential to boost innovation in the industry and improve its image. After all, that is where the specialist knowledge and expertise comes from, and where the majority of young apprentices will be placed. BIM is helping the industry to collaborate better but more needs to be done to understand its many uses, including BIM for FM.

Referring to how processes could be improved, John Lorimer, Chair of BIM Theme Group for Constructing Excellence pointed out “if every document we had to read had half the number of words in it that would make us more productive.” A fair point, although fewer words could mean more risk taken on by contractors. Lucy Osborne from Capita observed there has been an increase in litigations and urged mediation to be included in contracts, which would allow greater innovation to take place with less risk of escalation to adjudication or litigation. An interesting idea although difficult to implement in such a risk-averse industry.

Another topic covered was the skills shortage - the construction industry lost 390,000 people through the recession. The North West needs around 190,000 workers for the current pipeline of construction work. With construction output worth £30bn in the North West alone up to 2018, we need to be attracting, and retaining, talent more than ever. Sadly the percentage of women in the construction industry - less than 14% - has not fluctuated for about a decade so part of the solution seems obvious enough – recruit more talent from the other 50% of the UK’s talent pool, and change the way we work to be more attractive to women and millennials. Not a new idea, and some progress has been made, but change is still too slow if we want to deliver the new wave of work with a diverse and talented workforce.

Speaking at the event the day before he was axed from his role as the Government’s Chief Construction Advisor to the dismay of many, Peter Hansford suggested we could reach millennials, and the new generation of workers by adopting a school. The Class of Your Own scheme is already in place and it would be relatively easy for all to sign up and change attitudes about construction at this stage. As Sarah Fenton from the CITB pointed out, “the construction industry is constantly competing for talent against other sectors”. So might as well try and give ourselves a head start.

Phil Cusack, President of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, wrapped up the summit, concluding improving the image of the industry and educating people about it were the main drivers for improvement. So how can the industry do this? I’d say the way clients, contractors and subcontractors approach community engagement is making the biggest difference. This is how we add value and how we innovate – by interacting directly with communities in new ways, we affect the way projects are run. The new City Football Academy we built for Manchester City is one example of how community engagement can drive innovation. Proof that a step change in an approach can have a dramatic and lasting effect. And that’s what we need if the industry is to meet the 2025 targets.

About the author

Rob Hannay

Business Development Manager

Rob Hannay is the Business Development Manager for BAM Construction in the North West of England. He held the same regional role at Shepherd Construction and worked in a national role for Capita Property Services before joining BAM in 2010. Rob has also launched two of his own businesses, including a marketing research consultancy.

His sound knowledge of the industry, which he joined in 1998, gives him unparalleled insight into regional opportunities for existing and potential clients. He firmly believes the devolution of government and spending is the next big opportunity for the North of England.

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