A year on from the launch of the Farmer Review, and the slogan ‘modernise or die’ is really starting to resonate across the construction industry
With Brexit looming and negotiations failing to provide clarity on transitional arrangements, market confidence is cooling. Margins are tight, contractors are reporting lighter order books and, with pipelines constrained, tender prices are increasing at a slower rate than previously anticipated.
The Farmer Review put skills front and centre of the solution to addressing low productivity in construction. It also placed the onus squarely on Government and the CITB to act as the chief catalysts for change. The rallying cry did not fall on deaf ears – there have been commitments from Government on long-term infrastructure plans, rollout of the UK wide Apprenticeship Levy, and the CITB has pledged a raft of reforms with strategic oversight from CLC.
These are all welcome moves but in the context of the increasingly competitive market, as an industry, we can’t rely on the boots of Government to kick things forward. Having now voted to back the CITB, we need to look ahead and focus on our role in addressing Farmer’s challenges.
The rallying cry did not fall on deaf ears – there have been commitments from Government on long-term infrastructure plans, rollout of the UK wide Apprenticeship Levy, and the CITB has pledged a raft of reforms with strategic oversight from CLC
The private sector needs to step up, because it’s a collaborative spirit that will ultimately unlock resounding change. The skills challenge is faced across all tiers and disciplines, and is exacerbated by a fragmentation across the industry. We must break through this.
Construction faces a unique productivity challenge by nature of the fact that no one single entity has control over the end-to-end process of building. So, investment in the right expertise needs to be addressed across the entire supply chain.
But real productivity gains cannot be made until we have a higher level of capability at all rungs of the supply chain
To take just one example, several parts of the supply chain have been building digital capability, especially around tools like Building Information Modelling (BIM). The Government’s mandating of Level 2 BIM on all public sector contracts has seen these skills seized on and concentrated at a number of levels but not used in a federated way. I would argue that there is better skill at specialist contractor level than elsewhere as these businesses realised they needed to tap into this skillset fast, and have consolidated it.
But real productivity gains cannot be made until we have a higher level of capability at all rungs of the supply chain, enabling truly collaborative, real-time design processes and transparency throughout. Technology is only as good – and affordable – as the people who use it and we now need to take these skills beyond the silos in which they’ve been developed.
Bridging these isolated pockets of knowledge is the responsibility of the private sector. In our business we have been working with schools and universities to develop the skilled teams we need to meet the technology challenge; we need clients and all design and construction partners to work with us to do the same.
The last twelve months since Farmer’s report have seen steps forward from Westminster, but now the industry itself needs to pick up the baton, as the clock continues to tick.