Andrew Carpenter, chief executive of the Structural Timber Association and chair of BIM4Housing, explores the evolution of the construction industry
I have been involved in the UK construction industry change agenda since the days of Latham and Egan and in that time have seen the principles of collaborative working and integrated supply chains contained therein ebb and flow with the economy.
I am however an optimist and consider that the stars are now aligned and that for the first time it now might happen! With the advent of the Carillion debacle and Grenfell disaster, the construction industry has recognised that change is essential and that the working habits of old are no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated.
We’ve had the recent Farmer Report, Modernize or Die, and the Hackitt Report following Grenfell that both emphasise this need for change. Both concentrate on more immediate examples of why change is necessary but nevertheless, the principles remain the same.
But why is now any different to any other time? I’d like to offer my reasons below:
It is now universally agreed across the supply chain, from client to consultant and contractor to supply chain, that offsite methods of construction are both desirable and inevitable.
To achieve offsite construction satisfactorily it is essential you have a collaborative culture and an integrated supply chain. The early involvement of all involved is essential to derive the true benefits of working in this way. The need to have more and more work carried out in the factory is well documented and includes improvements in quality, time, health & safety and now cost.
The hidden benefit is that more and more young people are indicating they don’t want to work on wet and windy building sites and that going forward the need for more factory assembled buildings will be essential to provide our future needs.
It is further accepted that digitalisation is essential for so many reasons. Not only to make the sector more efficient, by removing waste from our processes, but also to provide asset managers with information to enable them to carry out their duties more effectively. The Golden thread of information, mentioned by Dame Judith Hackitt, refers.
However, I think there is another key reason why digitalisation is essential and that is because we owe it to future generations to ensure they have a digitalised industry in which to operate. They are growing up in a digitalised world and if we don’t offer this platform within construction they will vote with their feet and go elsewhere.
The third big agenda item is one of the environment. When I was growing up ‘green issues’ were considered only for those who ‘wore sandals and ate ruffage’ but now are very much at the centre of our politics and rightly so. This is the big-ticket subject that virtually the whole of society has accepted, and we have a large part to play.
It is reported the levels of carbon dioxide emissions from the UK construction industry saw an overall increase from 8.9 million metric tons in 1990 to 13 million metric tons in 2017. This amounts to approximately 3% of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the UK that year.
It is only through a totally joined-up approach, from design to manufacture and through to erection, that we can address this situation. We must ensure that designers carefully choose the products and the methods of construction they specify. Manufacturers must ensure the very best in environmental processes and our erectors, installers and assemblers must understand their responsibilities in this important agenda item.
You will notice that all three of my reasons for being optimistic about change are focussed on the young. We in Constructing Excellence have a group within for those 35 or under (or within the first five years of their career in construction) that come together to identify the changes they see as being essential going forward. These three topics are regularly mentioned as being essential to a future vibrant UK construction industry.
All require a collaborative culture and an integrated supply chain. Our G4C members are the leaders of tomorrow and I’m confident they are going to make it happen. We are at the cusp of significant change so for those of us that have been seeking this moment for many years we are now going to enjoy the ride!
Structural Timber Association