24th March Journal Column

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

With Article 50 set to be triggered next Wednesday (29 March) and the impact of Brexit fast approaching, it’s time to stop panicking and start thinking about what we need/can do in the months ahead to make the process as pain free as possible.

Building.co.uk launched its Building a Better Brexit campaign in January- a campaign to secure terms in Brexit negotiations that will safeguard a sector that contributes around 6.5% of Gross Domestic Profit, and provide a policy environment that enables the growth needed to deliver the infrastructure and housing the UK needs. The campaign’s specific focus is on the needs of the industry under a Brexit deal, and its vital role in the post-Brexit economy.

We got a sneak peek into the possible economic consequences of Brexit in the Spring Budget earlier this month when the chancellor was forced to downgrade his growth forecasts from 2018. The UK economy is now expected to grow at a slower rate than before the EU referendum and it will continue throughout, and after, the withdrawal process. From a survey carried out by Building.co.uk, which questioned more than 2,000 of its readers, we know that most industry workers are concerned about the impact of Brexit on costs, resources and the ability to deliver the housing and infrastructure we desperately need.

The same survey found that the majority of those asked think that the job of ensuring Brexit works for construction is not just the responsibility of the government – the industry and the government must work together. Last month’s Modern Industrial Strategy green paper stated that the government would only work with those sectors that were willing to help themselves – so we all must be willing to work together and make this work. This case was powerfully made by Mark Farmer’s report, Modernise or Die, last October. He called for a reform to address the skills crisis, pointing out that 700,000 new workers will be needed in five years to replace those retiring. His report also mentioned the lack of training in construction, I’m not saying that more skilled workers and better training would solve all our problems, but it’s definitely a good place to start.

Our industry and the government need to work together to create the conditions under Brexit in which construction can continue to operate, which is where the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) comes in. The CLC was set up in 2013 and although it wasn’t originally set up to focus on Brexit, it was established to improve performance of the industry and oversee the government’s industrial strategy. The role of the CLC is to be the bridge between government and the industry, helping to drive the change we need, and right now it’s exactly what we need to ensure the government and industry work together to ensure we thrive post-Brexit.

The Construction Industry Council and Partners are holding the North East’s Construction Summit on Tuesday 11 May, where the new Modern Industrial Strategy will be discussed in more detail. Guest speakers include; Don Ward of Constructing Excellence, Dale Sinclair of Aecom on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Dr Stephen Hamil of NBS, and a representative from The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, with more to be announced in the coming weeks. For more information on the summit, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.

17th March Journal Column

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond gave his Spring Budget speech and announced the launch of new T-Level qualifications. The new system is designed to put technical construction qualifications on a par with A-Levels, and I couldn’t be happier!

For a long time, technical education for school leavers has been neglected, with large differences in skill levels between regions. We’ve been desperate for the government to look at methods of technical training, especially for young people, and now they’ve finally agreed that compared to other countries, we are trailing behind. In the international league table for technical education we rank 16th out of 20, almost approaching bottom which is extremely worrying, so something needed to be done.

The £500m-a-year investment in T-Levels will come into effect in 2019 and will benefit 16-19-year-olds across 15 different sectors including construction, engineering and manufacturing. The 15 new courses will replace more than 13,000 different technical qualifications that we currently have, so it’s no surprise that not everybody knows what they all mean. Narrowing down qualifications means that employers will easily know what a potential employee can and can’t do and where their strengths lie – something that will make employing a skilled worker who is right for the job much easier.

Students will be offered at least a three-month work placement in their second year, which is sadly where doubt of the success of T-Levels creeps in. Statistics from the Construction Industry Training Board show that the number of young people in construction-related further education is much more than the number of apprenticeship places being offered, so will employers even be able to offer placements? The pressure is on for the government to find hundreds of thousands of work placements that it’s going to need for T-Level students, for this whole process to be a success.

For too long the industry has been wrongly viewed as an easy way out for those without qualifications or an alternative to the academic route, so I’m hoping the introduction of T-Levels changes this perception. There are a number of routes into the industry for those of all skills levels and people who work in the industry are some of the smartest people.

With the announcement of T-Levels and the recent announcement of the overhaul of technical education, setting up institutes of technology teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects), it’s obvious the government are finally taking this seriously. There has never been a better time for getting children interested in STEM subjects and construction, within the next couple of years the opportunities available to them will be better than ever before.

10th March Journal Column

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

New research has revealed that half of school age children have never been given any information on possible jobs in construction by their teachers or careers advisers.

House builders, Redrow surveyed 2,000 parents and school age children and 147 of its own apprentices and the results are quite shocking.  Half of young people answered ‘no’ when asked if information on careers in construction had ever been discussed with them by a teacher or had been made readily available in careers literature. I am 100 per cent behind encouraging new workers into the industry, particularly students and young people. I believe that the youth of today hold the future of our industry in their hands, so why aren’t we showing them just how amazing construction can be?

More than half of young people questioned believe that a career in construction mostly involves manual labour and one in five of young people believe a career in construction does not require any qualifications beyond GCSEs, proving that enough isn’t being done to educate children on the industry. The problem seems to lie with education, not just in skills and training like you would expect, but more in simply educating people on what the industry can offer them. As an industry, we need to get better at communicating the jobs available, informing parents/school career advisors and pupils that there are many professions within the industry, it’s not just hard hats and muddy boots.

We’ve all been celebrating National Apprenticeship Week this week, with campaigns up and down the country dedicated to supporting apprenticeships, so it’s a shame to hear that nearly a third of the young people asked said that they hadn’t received information at school on apprenticeships. The industry as a whole must get more young people interested and bring in more apprentices to help with the skills shortage that we’re dealing with. We now have the skills and resources to train and educate, and those who have gone through apprenticeships are some of the smartest people I know.

Only 30 per cent of young men said a career in construction was a possibility for them and even more shockingly, only 16 per cent of young women said the same, which is a shame when they haven’t been given all the facts to make an informed decision. The image people have in their head is not a true representation of how the industry is today. We’ve come a long way in terms of technology and skills, and the general public just aren’t aware of the reality of construction today. If we give them a true representation of what they can expect, and what the industry is like, then we’ve done all we can and it’s down to them to decide if construction is right for them.

3rd March Journal Column

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The National House Building Council (NHBC) has launched a website to help house-builders keep track of their ongoing projects being built off-site.

Offsite construction is a modern way of building that sees the unit being constructed offsite in a factory-controlled environment. The building is then delivered to the site where the ground works and foundations will have been prepared.

The modern methods of construction (MMC) Hub also lists building systems that NHBC has accepted as meeting the NHBC Standards. Only builders and developers who can demonstrate financial security and technical competence are registered with NHBC. It allows manufacturers to submit their systems and sub-assemblies for an assessment to determine whether they satisfy the requirements of NHBC Technical Standards. Because NHBC’s approach to acceptance of MMC/off-site construction is rigorous, it means that if a home benefits from an NHBC warranty then you can be confident that the system has been thoroughly assessed.

Although it is becoming more popular, off-site construction is still a fairly new method, so it’s beneficial that builders can have their systems and sub-assemblies checked before the process begins. The site also provides free access to research into off-site construction and gives users the option to ask frequently asked questions. It’s important organisations and builders are educated when it comes to off-site construction because it has the potential to help the industry in many ways.

Off-site construction has many benefits compared to traditional build; it is safer, more efficient and has the potential to greatly minimise on-site waste. This method also makes it possible to optimise construction material purchases and usage. With many off-site projects all happening under the same roof, it also means it’s easier to take inventory of leftover materials and use them on other projects, as opposed to other methods where surplus would be dumped in the recycle bin.

If used in the delivery of affordable housing, off-site construction has the potential to transform the way housing is delivered, and play a key role in ensuring we meet the government’s 2020 housing target, helping us deliver the affordable housing we so desperately need.

Working in a controlled factory environment means there is also less exposure to risks and less time spent on the construction site, resulting in much improved safety. With time and safety being reduced, it puts less pressure on contractors meaning they aren’t reliant on temporary labour. So really, it’s a win, win situation all round!

Work is well underway at Smiths Dock, North Shields to install 34 modular homes. The houses are being built in a factory in Nottinghamshire before being transported to North Shields and installed on site. It’s really promising to see that the North East has already accepted off-site construction and started using the method to its advantage. It shows that we have acknowledge that, like many industries, we are changing and we are ok with that. New construction methods are here to stay, and if they’re going to help us reach targets and deliver the houses we need, why wouldn’t we get on board?