The industry should get behind the pledge for change within the Building a Better Brexit manifesto

Helen Gough

It is no secret that the UK construction industry is challenged in its productivity, image and ability to provide the skilled workforce required to meet the demand for homes, workplaces and infrastructure. The sector is desperate for change and it was the pledge for change demonstrated in the Building a Better Brexit manifesto, coined by Building magazine that not only got my attention but my wholehearted support.

A key bedrock for this pledge for change is The Farmer Review published last October. As a document which best captures the needs and reasons for construction sector transformation in terms of efficiency, innovation and recruitment, the review has created a wonderful platform for industry debate and engagement. Reviews like this, while revealing the shortcomings of the sector, are what we need to fully grasp the essential requirements for future success.

Construction is built around dispute and consequence - we sit either side of a contract with heavy penalties for non-compliance. This is not a landscape which naturally supports innovation. It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain “the edge” over competition without focussing efforts around evolving technology and talent acquisition. This is why the industry must embrace and understand the growing importance of data, technology and digitisation. Real estate and construction are prime for disruption so those who fail to adapt their strategies today will almost certainly face obsolescence tomorrow.

Political and economic uncertainly coupled with tech driven disruption, are driving a massive shift in how, when and where we do business

The real estate and construction sectors are heading towards a massive transformation with data firmly in the driving seat. In JLL’s recent Workspace Reworked paper, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process and Automation are identified as fundamental factors impacting on how business is and will be done. We’ll see organisations made up of autonomous workers, a small core workforce and freelance specialists. A new structure like this has the potential to completely redraw the type of work available and skills required over the next 15 years. The skills for those who will lead in our industry going forward are much more likely to be linked to co-operation, facilitation and collaboration. The industry will also need to gain a better understanding of the evolution of client needs as well as the need for strong consultancy-led advice to navigate a new landscape of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity otherwise known as VUCA.

Political and economic uncertainly coupled with tech driven disruption, are driving a massive shift in how, when and where we do business. Yesterday’s announcement of a snap general election on 8 June is a positive for the UK property industry. It will mean that a general election is no longer likely to coincide with the end of the two-year negotiating period following the triggering of Article 50. The Prime Minister will now be under less pressure to ‘deliver Brexit’ by 2020 - making a transitional phase more likely. The threat of UK businesses having to face a ‘cliff edge’ - a fall back to WTO trading rules and full customs controls with the European Union - has retreated. Companies will still have to make contingency plans, but there may be less pressure on companies to plan for a sharp exit without the ‘deep relationship’ that the current government wants with the EU being agreed. This should help improve confidence in the market. However, much still depends on the course of the negotiations and the result of the general election.

Riding the wave and hoping for the best; which is what the industry has been doing for years is no longer going to work. Successfully navigating through these changes will require all us to obtain a deep understanding of the key trends impacting on our industry and modifying the way we react. The impact of our own actions depends on a more collaborative industry approach which has already started to take shape around issues such as health and safety and has the potential to effect long term change if we honour the pledge within the Building a Better Brexit manifesto. Let’s get behind it and make the changes needed for the future success of UK construction.

Helen Gough is lead director of Building Consultancy, cost management andproject management at JLL