Investing in our workers

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

The Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Skills Workstream last week published its Future Skills Report, urging contractors to hire more employees directly.

According to the report, industry workers do not receive enough training and the best way to tackle this issue is for contractors to hire more people directly. I think we all share the same concerns over the future skills shortage and the report expands on this. Given that 30% of the workforce is set to retire over the next ten years and the end to Freedom of Movement after Brexit is looming, I think it’s only right to be concerned. Thankfully, the report has put forward actions to make sure the industry doesn’t suffer.

The report calls for clients to agree a code of employment where those who contribute to a project are directly employed. That way, it’s in the employer’s best interest to train staff and benefit from their improved productivity. This echoes the 2016 construction strategy report which said the sector suffers from fragmentation, pointing out that 99% of construction businesses are SMEs. This is long overdue. Direct employment not only improves productivity, it reduces accidents and helps ensure workers are trained correctly. This needs to be the beginning of tackling the hire and fire culture which currently distorts the reputation of the industry.

The report also wants smart construction methods to be encouraged through early design and procurement processes, promoting the use of digital technology and advanced manufacturing techniques. This will create the demand for skilled employees which will hopefully drive employers to invest in training appropriate to the emerging skills and construction processes. Industry qualifications and training should be updated to include skills associated with new construction methods. It’s the only way to ensure the workforce and industry is equipped for the future.

It’s no secret that there are a number of challenges facing the industry, many of which will get worse after Brexit, but we need to ensure we’re taking actions and doing all that we can to avoid the skills shortage being so significant in the future.

Research shows that projects with higher levels of direct employment often work better, the workforce is more engaged, and the client tends to be happier with the final product. The industry is changing, we all know that. We’ve accepted new construction methods and are getting to grips with offsite manufacturing. We just need to invest more in our people, ensuring they have the right training to see us through the next decade, which I personally think might be our most challenging yet.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

World Environment Day – climate change and the industry

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

Yesterday we celebrated World Environment Day to encourage awareness and action on protecting the environment. Because of what we do, our industry has the potential to cause a lot of damage but that also means we also have huge potential to make a difference on protecting the environment.

 

We are always thinking of new innovative ways of being efficient and we’ve really stepped up our game in the last few years. Offsite construction is now becoming more common, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which are playing a part.

 

Last week, major contractors were among more than 120 business leaders who wrote to the prime minister to urge the government to adopt a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2050. Skanska, Cundall and Willmott Dixon were among those who signed the letter to the PM. The letter highlighted how many companies were adopting more energy efficient practices and setting their own net-zero targets. I think what the letter shows, is that the climate crisis is becoming such an issue that it’s now being discussed in boardrooms with more and more businesses calling for a net zero carbon country. Given that the built environment, including construction and property, contributes 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint, I’m so happy to see so many industry professionals signing this letter.

 

The UK Green Building Council’s new report aims to build a consensus about the actions we need to take, looking at whole-life carbon impacts of both new and existing homes and buildings. Previously, zero carbon policies focused only on operational energy and modelled performance in new buildings, so this is a significant change. However, currently a building’s energy status isn’t based on the materials used during construction and that’s what we need to change. While the aesthetics of a building are still important, we need to consider the materials we’re using and their wider impact. We need more recycled and manufactured materials used in a way that’s environmentally friendly.

Changes are happening. People are finally taking responsibility in how they work and their efforts to tackle the climate crisis. We’re looking at new building methods, new materials and technologies – all of which can reduce emissions. Skanska has pledged to become a carbon-neutral business by 2045 and other businesses have committed to a net-zero or net-negative carbon pathway. We made history by becoming the first country to introduce a legally binding framework for tackling climate change when The Climate Change Act received royal assent in 2008, I say why stop there?

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

What ex-offenders can bring to the industry

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

Government figures show that more than 82,500 people are in prisons across the UK and those who are set for release face re-entering society, getting their life back on track and starting the long, difficult process of looking for a job as an ex-offender.

Encouraging ex-offenders back into work reduces the likelihood of re-offending but it also gives employers access to a pool of talented and motivated individuals. Research shows that only 17% of ex-offenders are in PAYE work a year after prison release. Given that the industry is already struggling with a skills shortage and after Brexit it’s only going to get worse, hiring ex-offenders could solve many of our problems.

Since May 2018 more than 230 businesses have registered to work with prisons and set offenders on a path to employment. This is further to the 300 businesses around the UK including Halfords, Timpson, Virgin, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Boots and Balfour Beatty that are already employing ex-offenders. A few years ago, Esh Group co-ordinated the ‘Chance for Change’ programme. The programme offered 15 prisoners in Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution at Barnard Castle the opportunity to develop a range of skills prior to their release in a bid to stop them going back to a life of crime. The inmates took part in weekly workshops each led by managers from those businesses taking part in the project. They focused on issues such as the skills, attitude and behaviour important in the workplace, managing finances and living independently and personal responsibility. An important feature of the programme was the opportunity for some of the young men involved to be Released on Temporary Licence (ROTL), making it possible for them to go out of the prison on work experience.

Just last week, a new construction academy inside HMP Leeds was launched, training prisoners towards level one national vocational qualifications including bricklaying, tiling, carpentry and joinery. Kier are one of the first construction companies to support the initiative but I hope many others will follow suit.

There are plenty of programmes now to help get prisoners back into work and I’m so glad the industry is playing its part. By expanding the use of ROTL for work and broadening access to training and work opportunities for prisoners we can work towards steering them away from a life of crime and towards a new life with a stable job and new skills under their belt. Not to mention, they will be filling the skills gaps and the workers shortage that is only expected to get worse – it really is a win-win situation for all involved.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

Why you shouldn’t overlook the North East

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

Our region might have fewer big projects than those down South and we certainly get less attention than those big-money schemes but that’s not to say we should be overlooked. We might be small and have faced (and overcome) many obstacles, but we still have plenty to shout about and there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the future of construction in the North East.

We’ve worked hard over the years to get the industry to where it is now. We’ve employed methods and models to support new housing delivery, using council-owned land and assets and innovative funding models.  We’ve seen the rejuvenation of Newcastle’s West End through a £265m investment designed to address growing housing needs by building energy-efficient homes using sustainable materials within a sustainable community. A public-private joint venture at Ouseburn Quarter to develop new mixed tenure homes across brownfield sites will also lever in £57m of private sector funding to develop a new residential community – the perfect mix of small businesses from creative industries, pubs, eateries and music venues.

Newcastle Helix, the £350m flagship project brought together the public sector, academia, communities, business and industry and created around 4,000 jobs. The building and its surroundings are themselves experiments that use micro-metering to provide detailed, real time performance data. This will be used to inform the future design of building services, materials selection, urban drainage, energy systems and infrastructure. It’s a perfect example of sustainable urban development combining commercial and residential space with research and education facilities. I’m so proud that something like this was created in the North East.

There have also been new plans submitted for a £250 million urban village to be built on the former Calders site. The development hopes to deliver an urban village consisting of 1,500 residential properties, a hotel and commercial and leisure space. The site has been neglected now for 20 years and the regeneration scheme is set to redevelop the area between Central Station and the Quayside, creating up to 1000 jobs in the process.

These examples all showcase the North East’s ability and the great things we can and have achieved. Given that we’re smaller, receive less attention and funding than elsewhere in the country, we often have to come up with our own solutions and work together to make the North East somewhere people want to live and work and I personally think we do that very well. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, in terms of housing, innovation and driving digitalisation and am more than confident we can deal with whatever Brexit issues come our way in the coming months.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk

A new procurement era ahead?

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

Unless you’ve been holidaying in some far-flung place in the past few weeks, you’ll know that the vacancy for the North of Tyne Mayor has been filled and Jamie Driscoll is now in office.  A key part of the mayor’s manifesto is to enable small businesses to win public sector work.

That very subject was the catalyst for the formation of Construction Alliance North East (CAN) in 2016. Since then, CAN has garnered support from many local MPs and industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Council and in 2018 successfully supported NEPO to develop its £300m Building Construction Works framework which resulted in a number of local companies being appointed.

The new mayor hopes to improve opportunities for small businesses by ‘creating a procurement framework to level the playing field for local businesses and keep those profits here. As well as encourage local public services such as council, hospital and universities to join this framework.’ He will also be building on the pioneering approach of Preston by working with employers to ensure that they prioritise local small businesses and local employment when procuring supplies and services. Since changing its procurement approach back in 2013, Preston has increased public sector spend in the city from 5% to an impressive 18%, returning in excess of £275m to the local economy and reducing unemployment from 6.5% to 3.5%. CAN firmly believes that by adopting a considered approach to public sector procurement, which ensures that tendering opportunities are structured in such a way to include rather than preclude regional SMEs, there is no reason why the North East cannot benefit in the same way that areas such as Preston have.

As the leading voice for SME contractors in the region, CAN is very much looking forward to working with the mayor’s office to provide guidance and support to help shape the procurement framework at such an exciting time for the region. However, whether using new or existing frameworks, CAN feels strongly that the following recommendations should be implemented.  Frameworks should recognise the specialisms and expertise of SME’s and should be based around a clear valued work bank with a commitment from clients to deliver work via the framework.  The number of companies on the framework should be proportionate to the framework value and the time and cost of the selection process should be reduced substantially.  Also, frameworks must encourage the use of the Social Value Act and promote better monitoring of contract performance ensuring fair treatment of all suppliers.

CAN is the main sponsor for Constructing Excellence North East’s ‘Procuring for Value’ event taking place on 13 June at The Grand Gosforth Park Hotel.  The event will look at what the Procuring for Value workstream is, how it will operate and the opportunities it will create for the industry and the region.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

Why the next 10 years are important for climate change

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

We work in one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what we do, we have the most potential to make a difference on protecting the environment. One of the biggest differences that can be made lies within our industry, in house-building.

The Climate Change Act, the first legally binding framework for tackling climate change, was introduced back in 2008. It sets legally binding targets, creates new powers, changes the institutional framework, establishes systems to ensure accountability and addresses resilience to climate change. It is most notably known for the commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gasses by at least 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels – something we’ve all been slowly working towards.

Last week, the Committee on Climate Change responded to a government request to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets. The published report suggested the UK can end its contribution to global warming by setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, which will require outstanding levels of energy efficiency alongside zero carbon electricity and heat supplies. The target referred to as ‘net zero’ would be met by some sources of emissions being offset by removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The report suggests that foundations are in place to implement the policy throughout the UK. A net-zero target will deliver on the commitment that the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known technologies within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990. However, this is only possible if credible, well designed policies are ramped up significantly. I feel like this is a positive step forward for climate change and it shows that people are finally taking it seriously. We all need to take responsibility in our own lives to tackle climate change, especially in our efforts to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and our industry has a big role to play in that.

The government welcomed the report but has yet to accept the recommendations. We need to make the changes and start delivering them as soon as possible, the sooner the better if you ask me. According to reports, the industry has just over 10 years to make sure all new buildings are net zero carbon by 2030 – given how quick the last 10 years of the Climate Change Act has gone it will be here before we know it.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk

What do the under 30’s think of the industry?

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

This week, Building’s survey of the perceptions of young people found that those working and studying in the industry are optimistic about their careers and happy in their work.

For so long we’ve been trying to change young people’s perception of the industry and encourage more people to consider a career in construction, so it’s great to hear that those in the industry enjoy what they’re doing.

The survey asked almost 500 young people about their perceptions of the sector and found more than 90% were happy in their jobs and over two-thirds felt their careers were satisfying, fulfilling and that a career in the industry is full of variety, exciting and enjoyable. Construction is about changing and shaping the world around us for the better – what’s more varied than that?

However, as with most things it wasn’t all positive news. Many felt that pay and working conditions did not favour young people, with 16% saying that low pay and long hours were the biggest things they would improve about construction – which is fair enough. Thankfully, the rise of the gig economy and zero-hour contracts hasn’t impacted their ambition and position within the industry, with 89% aspiring to a senior position and 94% still feeling secure in their job.

As a traditionally male-dominated industry, we’ve been struggling for a while now to improve our image and gender diversity. Gender pay gap reporting practices and a number of schemes have highlighted the problem but also resulted in more companies working to address the imbalance – and this isn’t going unnoticed by the younger generation. Nearly seven in 10 respondents believe construction is actively seeking to increase the number of women entering the industry.

When asked what one thing they would change about the industry, their priorities in order were:

  • Better pay and shorter working hours
  • Gender quality and an end to sexism
  • Construction to take its role in global sustainability and climate change seriously
  • The industry to speed up its modernisation process
  • To be respected, listened to and recognised for the work they do

So, is the industry actually listening to what its new generation want? One respondent said they feel that those with more experience look down on younger people and don’t respect them as much as others. Here at Constructing Excellence in the North East, we certainly respect the younger generation. Generation4Change is our group established to be the voice of the younger generation. Part of the Constructing Excellence movement it comprises of young professionals who are passionate about making a difference in the sector. Each year, we host the G4C North East Awards in celebration of the region’s emerging talent and it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m really looking forward to celebrating with them all this Friday.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

Why we must take care of iconic buildings

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

The emotional response to the devastating fire at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral shows that such iconic buildings really do mean a lot to us, not just to our industry but to the world. Whether conscious or otherwise, the built environment and infrastructure influences how people perceive a place, its economy and its people.

The construction of Notre Dame was completed in 1345. It’s a masterpiece of medieval architecture, a building that, for all the advances in materials and building techniques over the years, still takes your breath away. There are a number of rare buildings around the world that are particularly important to us; they are the places people gather and the heart of communities. Notre Dame is one of those. With an estimated 13 million visitors a year, whether that be Catholics attending mass or tourists hoping to see Quasimodo, the cathedral is important to many people around the world.

Historical buildings are a reminder of an area’s history, usually made of marble, old brick or heart pine, the aesthetics are just beautiful. That said, Notre Dame’s aging wooden foundation has been topic of concern for some time and was undergoing a £5+ million renovation project at the time of the fire. The entire frame of the 850-year-old building is made from timber, with an estimated 1,300 trees used for the construction of its beams. There is always going to be a risk of fire with timber structures.

Within days of the fire they announced it would be restored and there would be an architecture contest to rebuild the spire. I agree, rebuilding the cathedral is the right thing to do but I also agree with the French Prime Minister, who said the rebuilt cathedral needs to reflect the techniques and challenges of our times. The goal of restoration is not always to replicate the past. Modern tastes and technologies may influence how damaged structures are reimagined. Notre Dame is a building that has been restored many times over the years, it wasn’t a perfectly preserved building. It’s suffered wars, destruction and repair. I don’t think we need the new build to be a replica with no trace of the fire, the fire is now part of its history and I don’t think that should be forgotten.

While the cause of the fire is still unknown, we must remember complex, historic buildings, especially those undergoing restoration are at risk from fire. Within hours of the Notre Dame fire, people were quick to point out the dangerous state of the Palace of Westminster, which has been crying out for restoration for over a decade. If there is one thing to take from this tragedy, it’s to not take such iconic buildings for granted, to look after them and make every effort to ensure they are preserved for years to come.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

Flexible working and working mums

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

Construction doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to women. Last year the results of the gender pay gap report showed that construction has the biggest gender pay gap of any UK industry, at 25%. We have known of the under-representation of women in the industry for many years, so it was nothing new, but it seemed to kick start some actions around encouraging and retaining women in the industry.

Working hours that are not compatible with childcare, combined with a culture of presenteeism, can make the industry seem scary for female employees, I get that. Thankfully, a lot of firms are working towards changing that. Staff surveys at Morgan Sindall revealed that salary comes third to flexible working and personal development, regardless of age or gender. In any industry, the desire is to have a healthy, productive workforce and construction is no different. We all want to work somewhere where we feel comfortable, safe and valued, and when we do, that’s where we’ll thrive. There’s no reason why you can’t be a parent and have a successful career in construction. If people can fulfil their responsibilities with flexible working, then why not give it a go? Something as simple as arranging your working day around the school day isn’t going to stop you having a successful day at work. If anything, I think it might make you more productive, by taking the pressure of childcare or missing out on important milestones off your mind you’ll be able to concentrate on the job in hand.

I understand there are still some circumstances where flexible working might not work. There are sometimes where you still need be on site before 8am which is difficult for a working parent, but why not involve the graduates – those who want to learn, want the experience and are more than happy to help out. Have someone there to help you set up, lock up or carry out tasks that cannot be carried out during the typical 9-5. You’re getting the job done, it’s less stress for you and a keen younger worker is getting invaluable experience working with responsibility.

I love to see new ideas that make working women’s life easier which is why I was thrilled to see that you can now buy maternity high-vis clothing. Leo Workwear have released the first stocked maternity garments conforming to high visibility standard ISO 20471. They make life easier, safer and more comfortable for pregnant women at work and it could be the deciding factor in whether a woman stays in the industry or leaves when deciding to start a family. That teamed up with the news that several big contractors are now promoting flexible working to encourage working mums to stay or return to the industry makes me very happy – after all, the industry definitely needs women.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

Why is poor payment still an issue?

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

For me, the big news in the industry last week were plans to charge subcontractors 1.5% of package turnovers to become closer strategic partners. The controversial (to say the least) new plans were announced to overhaul and promote better supply chain relationships across the group. Is this encouraging greater collaboration and alignment with subcontractors or is it just pushing the ‘pay to get paid’ culture that I desperately hoped we’d stay away from?

The Prompt Payment Code was launched 11 years ago in an effort to help SMEs get paid faster. While support from the government has only increased over the years, it still hasn’t helped PPC be more successful. The government have always threatened to name and shame those that fail to pay promptly, but never followed through. Despite many being members of the PPC, which expects businesses to pay 95% of their invoices within 60 days, there are still a number of companies who take more time than this to pay their own invoices. How can you expect one thing but do another? It’s especially important that money is paid on time in our industry; on a construction site there could be 20 different trades that participated, and money could be held back because of anyone else in the project chain.  Until recently, there were no financial penalties for not sticking to the PPC, the only punishment was the risk of having the PPC ‘badge of honour’ taken away. The PPC was intended to be a driver for change but it has struggled to have an impact due to a lack of funding and unrealistic expectations. Given that Carillion were still signed up until the day it collapsed, it clearly wasn’t working.

Last week, the Cabinet Office minister wrote to government suppliers reminding them that a new late payment crackdown is on the way. Unlike other efforts to change the culture, this one actually comes with a business incentive that might work. From September, firms that don’t pay at least 95% of undisputed invoices within 60 days face being barred from public sector contracts worth more than £5m, this will ensure the government only does business with companies who pay their suppliers on time, many of which are small businesses.

Finance is a huge problem for our industry and one I don’t think we’ve taken seriously enough in the past. In everyday life you pay for things immediately, whether that be goods or services, you also wouldn’t expect your boss to ask you for money to ensure you got paid on time or earlier – so why should our industry be any different? We saw the same thing happen with Carillion and look how that turned out!

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.