There’s no lack of holiday reading for those interested in how the industry needs to change, but perhaps it’s time to move on and put all these recommendations into action. Ann Bentley, RLB Global Board Director, discusses strategies for the future of the construction industry:
The impact and speed of change is only something that we see with hindsight. I was issued with my first mobile phone and laptop a quarter of a century ago. Now I can barely remember a time when they didn’t exist – but I can’t pin down the moment when something actually changed. Some of us can remember the Betamax versus VCR debate, but few of us recall when they both became redundant. Are we on the cusp of something similar in construction, or is it that I am now more aware of such things?
The last few weeks have seen a flurry of publications – just in time to provide us with some summer holiday reading. A few key ones include:
- The government’s Industrial Strategy/ construction sector deal
- The Construction Leadership Council’s Supply Chain and Business Models Workstream Procuring for Value report and its Skills Workstream Strategy and Action Plan
- The House of Lords science and technology select committee’s Off-site Manufacture for Construction: Building for Change
- The Housing Forum’s Stopping Building Failures
- The National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment
- Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future – Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report
- The Infrastructure Client Group’s Project 13.
While each of these publications is looking from a different perspective and at different parts of the industry, the broad conclusions that they all draw are remarkably similar:
First, that there is significant capacity within the industry to improve both productivity of the overall construction process and the quality, relevance and value of the assets that the industry builds.
Second, skill shortages are having a negative impact on the industry.
Third, high-quality infrastructure and housing are key to unlocking wider economic growth.
Fourth, the industry is made up of many players, the most influential of which remains the “public purse” in its many guises.
Finally, that there is little standardisation across the industry and even less assessment or benchmarking of performance or holding to account for performance.
So, the time has come when we don’t need another batch of reports; we don’t need more action plans and strategies; we don’t even need more “leadership”. We just have to get on and do the really tough, boring, disciplined things that will ultimately make a difference.
For me this comes down to a few key questions that every client, designer, contractor, supplier and building occupier should ask themselves and each other on every project they undertake:
- What outcomes do I want from this project, in the short, medium and long term?
- Are the desired outcomes of the different parties aligned or do they conflict?
- From the entire team’s experience, how strong is the evidence that these desired outcomes will be delivered?
- What changes, individually and collectively, do we need to implement to improve the chance of success?
- Do we have the authority, energy and/or expertise to make these changes?
- Are we prepared to accept the consequences of sub-optimal performance?
This kind of consistent “soul searching” clearly requires rigour and a completely joined-up approach, avoiding any shortcuts. It is hard work, can be dull and is not without its challenges. But we know it works. It sets the framework for a successful project, for all stakeholders.
It moves the nature of the model from being highly transactional and linear to one where the teams of designers, contractors and suppliers engage with each other in the early stages of a project. This enables the whole team to not only focus on making the right decisions for the long-term benefit of the ultimate users of whatever it is they are constructing, but also to stay invested in and learn from the asset once it is in use.
All this is easy to say. The question is: do we have the appetite to make what is after all a relatively small change in approach and behaviour? I would say: absolutely.
The prize here is massive. The CLC’s research shows that a more joined-up approach would result in annual productivity gains of £15bn, which would benefit clients, the whole supply chain and the taxpayer. But more than that, a different way of working – boring but important – could be the step change our industry needs to save us from being this generation’s Betamax.
Ann Bentley is a global board director of Rider Levett Bucknall and a member of the UK government’s Construction Leadership Council – of whose report Procuring for Value she is the author – and also a member of the CBI’s Construction Council This article originally appeared in Building Magazine.