Following our first editorial board meeting, Andrew Carpenter discusses the issues currently taking hold of the UK construction industry and how the sector as a whole can move forward
It was my delight last month to be invited to join the editorial board of PBC Today and BIM Today. As somebody who’s been a part of the UK construction industry for over 40 years and is currently chief executive of the Structural Timber Association and Constructing Excellence in the South West & Midlands plus Chair of BIM4Housing I hope I will have something to offer both publications.
My passion over the past 20 plus years, since the Egan Report of 1998, has been the construction improvement agenda. In Sir John’s ground-breaking report, Rethinking Construction, he pointed out that the industry was too adversarial and needed to be more collaborative and was too fragmented and needed to be better integrated. Despite pockets of good practice, since then the rump of the sector really hasn’t changed too much in terms of behaviour and culture.
I am an optimist however and believe the current imperatives around Brexit and the inevitable skills shortages, Carillion and our obvious unacceptable procurement practices and most notably Grenfell and the subsequent Hackitt Review, that focuses on quality & compliance, will at last deliver the change we so desperately need. The tribulations of the UK construction industry are now on the front pages of all our newspapers for the wrong reasons, people are reading about the way we carry out our business with incredulity and the politicians are at last creating the structure to allow change to take place. This acknowledgement can be seen within the Mark Farmer Report, Modernize or Die, which emphasised the problems previously espoused in earlier reports but brought them up-to-date.
Key issues in UK construction
There are several key issues that will, in my opinion, deliver the change we so desperately need. The first of these is Offsite Construction which for the first time in my career is now universally accepted by Government, stakeholders, clients and the supply chain as an essential part of our delivery mix.
Once embedded in our design and build process it will reduce build time, improve quality, improve health & safety, cut down on the number of skilled people we need on site but most importantly, in my opinion, improve the image of the UK construction sector especially amongst our young folk whom we so desperately need to come and join us. They don’t want to spend time on wet and windy building sites so the more we can do in the clean and safe conditions of a factory the better.
I’m pleased to say that from my position as chief executive of the Structural Timber Association I’ve seen a huge increase in market share in the use of timber frame in housing with about one in three homes now expected to be constructed in this manner. This is of course offsite construction in its most sustainable fashion.
This brings me onto my second key issue that of sustainability. This subject has dropped off the political agenda in the last few years with the demise of the Zero Carbon Hub and Code for Sustainable Homes but has re-emerged recently most noticeably when school children took time out from their lessons to emphasise our need to improve the planet’s environmental credentials especially when it comes to carbon. It is our responsibility to ensure we adopt a position whereby the UK construction sector is considering our build methods and material choices with care and attention.
Again, with my STA ‘hat on’ I’ve seen a significant move in favour of CLT (cross laminated timber) as designers and specifiers attempt to use more timber, it being the most sustainable building material. Young people will insist we make these important decisions going forward so we need to prepare ourselves for this eventuality.
The third key issue is digitalisation. As with offsite you can only get the true benefits of digitalisation with a collaborative culture and an integrated supply chain. We need to quickly move down this path for so may well documented reasons but again most importantly, in my opinion, is to ensure we provide an industry fit for the 21st century that will prove attractive for young people. If we don’t do this, they will go elsewhere.
As chair of BIM4Housing I have noticed a shift in favour of adopting BIM since the release of the Hackitt Review, which sets out in Chapter Eight, The Golden Thread of Information, and many clients are now beginning to realise the many and varied benefits.
My fourth and final key issue centres on something I’ve mentioned throughout and is one of image. The UK construction sector is still thought of by many as being outdated in its behaviours and culture. I’m delighted to say that through my involvement with the CLC, Constructing Excellence, Build UK and many others I’m witnessing a substantial and unified attempt to change this. For the first time I can remember we appear to have all our construction ‘ducks in a row’ with all relevant stakeholders and industry bodies ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.
The need to attract young people, women, LGBT and ethnic minorities into the sector is acknowledged as is our need to address well-being and mental health issues. I’m looking forward to playing a small part in this drive for cultural change so that young men entering the industry are not savaged, as I was in 1977, because of my love for musical theatre!
Structural Timber Association