Katy Dowding gave first keynote speech at Building the Future Commission conference 

Construction leaders must “look to the future” to ensure the success of their businesses, Skanska’s UK chief said today. 

Speaking at Building’s Building the Future Commission conference in London this afternoon, Katy Dowding made a plea for a forward-looking industry. 

“As leaders we can be futurologists, we can use facts to build potential future outcomes,” she said. 


Skanska’s Katy Dowding addressing construction leaders at Building’s Building the Future Conference this afternoon

The Skanska boss, who took over from Gregor Craig this year, said the problems facing the sector could seem “insurmountable” when viewed through “today’s lens” and posed herself the question: why try to predict the future when we live in such an uncertain world? 

“If we don’t consider the future, how will we know if we’ve got the right skills for the future of construction, let alone the numbers we need,” she said. 

“If we don’t plan a pathway, invest in materials, plant new ways of working. how can we find a route to net zero construction? 

“If we don’t find new ways of working, new ways of navigating the planning system, how on earth will we ever have all the housing that we need?” 

She reminded the audience of the industry she entered 30 years ago, when construction was seen as “inherently dangerous, a tough place you just have to adapt to fit in with”.

Pointing out the progress on safety that has been achieved since then, Dowding asked: “If I could have guaranteed that [outcome] as a fact, then how quickly do you think they would have started implementing it? Do you think it would have taken 30 years?” 

To demonstrate the risks of short-termism in business, Dowding used the example of film firm Kodak, which she said was “so fixated on being the best at what they did today” – film photography – that it failed to pick up on the promise of digital photography, despite actually inventing it in 1975. 

“That is why the Building the Future Commission is so important,” she added. 

“The commission considers what the future might be and then sets to work to investigate the signs, look at the opportunities, the pitfalls and look at what actions we may need to consider today.”

About the commission

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The Building the Future Commission is a 12-month project looking at radical and challenging ideas that could help transform the built environment.

The campaign aims to tap into innovative ideas, amplify them and be an agent for change.

The major project’s work will be guided by a panel of major figures who have signed up to help shape the commission’s work culminating in a report published at the end of the year.

The commissioners include figures from the world of contracting, housing development, architecture, policy-making, skills, design, place-making, infrastructure, consultancy and legal. See the full list here.

The project is looking at proposals for change in eight areas:

>> Editor’s view: And now for something completely positive - our Building the Future Commission

>> Click here for more about the project and the commissioners

Building the Future is also undertaking a countrywide tour of roundtable discussions with experts around the regions as part of a consultation programme in partnership with the regional arms of industry body Constructing Excellence. There is also a young person’s advisory panel.