19th November 2015 Newsletter

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13th November Journal Column

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

I’m always supportive of getting young people into the industry and recruiting new staff, so it’s no surprise that I am thrilled with the information published in the recent report by Prospects.

The report shows that for architecture and building graduates, prospects are improving. Graduates from last year have topped the overall results for across the whole country. The employment rates for 2014 graduates were higher than average, with 85.1 per cent in work within six months of leaving university. Considering the overall employment rate for all graduates is only 76.6 per cent, I’d say that’s pretty good going for our industry.
Beating national averages can only mean good things and shows that the industry is going from strength to strength.

Only 5.3 per cent of graduates from 2014 were still unemployed after six months of graduating, and if we compare that to the rate of all graduates, 6.3 per cent, our industry is still coming in way above the rest. Across all subjects we’ve seen massive improvements; back in 2010 the unemployment rate six months after graduation was a lot higher at 10.9 per cent. Opportunities are increasing for graduates and in particular our graduates, which I love to see.

The report, published by Prospects, revealed the difference in employment outcomes among all graduates, showing which degrees are more likely to lead to a career in that particular area of study. Out of the top five, three were degrees relating to the industry; civil engineering, mechanical engineering and architecture and building; with them all having the highest rates out of the 24 that featured.

The Local Government Association (LGA) had previously announced that in the last five years the number of completed construction apprenticeships fell by 58 per cent, so it’s good to know students are still coming into the industry through other means. The LGA also reported earlier in the year that the numbers of students studying the subjects which relate to the industry are mainly boys, which wasn’t good news for an advocate of women in the industry like me. However, things finally seem to be changing, the Prospects report shows that across architectural related subjects almost 40 per cent of graduates were women – which is good enough for me.

As I have said many times before in this column, I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people, as I believe that the young people of today hold the future of our industry in their hands and we should therefore do all that we can to encourage them into the industry and show them exactly what construction can offer.

12th November 2015 Newsletter

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6th November Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve spoken several times about the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) this year, and here we are with it hitting the headlines once again.

First there were plans to scrap the 13 cards and introduce one smart card to eliminate the number of fake cards, which according to recent news hasn’t been too successful. Now, there’s been a call for construction safety tests to be made more vigorous following the recent scandal that test centres were taking cash to rig health and safety exams. I really can’t comprehend this, is it really worth risking someone’s life just to pass a test the first time? What is the point in doing a job if you aren’t doing it safely?

Some of the fraudulent qualifications were used to get work on building sites, a school and in probably one of the most dangerous places to be around, a power station.

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) want the current test system to be replaced by a one day course to be paid for by the employers.

UCATT believe the CSCS cards still have significant value, which I totally agree with, the current system that is in place is one that everyone is aware of. Everyone in the industry knows what the cards are and what they represent.

It’s not about changing the cards, but more about changing the way in which firms acquire one. The current test is reasonably simple, a standard tick box exam which could be passed by somebody with good luck and a good ability to guess. The test needs to be able to prove that construction workers know their business.

I fully support the UCATT suggestion to introduce a one day course, yes it might cost the employer but so does the current test that you have to take part in. At least this way you can be certain your staff are fully aware of what they’re doing and that the company can operate safely.

Making it more difficult to acquire a CSCS card means we can be more certain than ever that companies and construction sites are operating safely, meaning we can protect the excellent reputation that the majority of the industry holds. Let’s not let a few cases of senseless fraudulent behaviour tarnish what I know is a good, honest and hard-working industry.

Construction is the UKs most dangerous employment sector. In the past five years alone, 221 workers have died. Surely paying a little extra money to ensure the safety of your staff and customers is worth it? In my eyes it certainly is …

5th November 2015 Newsletter

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30th October Journal Column

Identity ConsultBy Andrew Milnes BSc MRICS, Associate Director, Identity Consult

You may have heard of pop-up restaurants or pop-up shops which are opened temporarily to take advantage of demand for a trend or product … well now they’ve introduced the pop-up village!

The UKs first pop-up village, designed by architect Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners on behalf of Lewisham Council, aims to be a solution to the homes shortage problem. The development will provide temporary homes for families and space for community and business use.

In the past year, Lewisham Council has seen an increase in the number of families placed in temporary accommodation to nearly 600, costing them nearly £3million, and so the village will be used to help meet the high demand for emergency housing for homeless people. However it will also contain a range of commercial and community uses to re-animate a brownfield site while long term regeneration plans are developed and thereby also solve a common problem that occurs with the majority of development sites, which sit unused while plans come together.

Once the site is developed, the blocks can be dismantled and moved, meaning the village can be reused over and over again. Even if we were given just one pop-up village per city, I’m sure we’d see huge improvements in housing figures.

Lewisham Council has appointed SIG Building Systems as its Principal Contractor, who in turn are working alongside North East leading Development Consultancy, Identity Consult. The project will immediately take 24 families out of B&Bs and assuming that every family has an average stay of one year, during the four years before they find permanent accommodation, then that will be almost 100 families that have benefited from the development. Pretty amazing if you ask me, so amazing that I must ask, when will it be coming to the North East?

The villages would be a huge help in the North East, they could be used to help get young people on the property ladder or be used to re-house those who need it, whilst they look for a more permanent solution.

The UK as a whole has previously struggled to build enough homes to meet the growing demand, frustrating potential home owners. But these reforms look set to solve an age-old problem that local authorities have failed to plan ahead for meaningful developments; although we still have the issue of delivery. The skills shortage in the industry means that builders are turning down projects and this problem will only get worse with an increased development demand. The pressure should ease knowing there could be a solution making its way to the North East to house families, whilst builders and the council attempt to meet the ever growing demand for new homes. Let’s hope a village ‘pops-up’ around the North East in the near future!

29th October 2015 Newsletter

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23rd October Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve spoken about my support for the development of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology before. And the Government seemed to agree with me when they announced the BIM Mandate, which states that all firms tendering for Government projects must be using Level 2 BIM technology by 2016.

The announcement meant that all firms had to start thinking about using the technology, especially if they wanted to be able to tender for Government projects. But with 2016 only two months away, I would expect all firms to have progressed a lot further than just thinking about BIM  … but it seems my expectations are a far cry from reality.

According to a survey by the Electrical Contractors Association, the industry is way behind in the Government’s timetable. Only 16 per cent of firms in the building sector are BIM ready, over half (57 per cent) aren’t fully ready and 27 per cent aren’t ready at all, despite the deadline being just months away.

The results show that awareness of BIM is high across building services, and although they are aware of BIM and the looming deadline, most firms still have a long way to go in order to meet it.

The results indicate that while some companies have already engaged with BIM, many more have yet to consider it. Although the advantages of BIM have been highlighted, more so this week, due to Digital Construction Week, there are still some SMEs that think BIM isn’t as relevant to them as it is for larger organisations, but they could not be more wrong.

BIM isn’t just about the software. The processes and systems used have just as much importance, if not more. Some of the SMEs I’ve spoken to in the past said this is what puts them off. However, it really shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether this technology is used or not, and you don’t really have a choice anymore if you want to tender for Government projects. All businesses need to do is ensure they have the process infrastructure in place that can help them deliver BIM and the technical capability to administer the correct information.

Don’t worry, it isn’t as complicated as it seems. BIM doesn’t require drastic change in the way things are currently done. Firms should take a problem-solving approach and pick just one area of their workflow they want to improve and then use BIM as part of the solution.

There are some great examples of organisations using BIM well and in the North East, there are numerous SMEs using the technology to their full advantage. So there’s plenty of evidence to show those organisations slightly wary of the next step that it’s definitely worth it.

22nd October 2015 Newsletter

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16th October Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The industry has welcomed the new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) with open arms.

The newly formed body, which was announced by Chancellor George Osborne, will be charged with offering an unbiased analysis of the UK’s infrastructure needs. They got to work immediately when news of the NIC was announced on 5 October and are led by Lord Andrew Adonis.

I have faith that an unbiased panel will be able to make decisions based on the UK’s needs as a whole, rather than doing it as a Conservative or Labour Party, which often makes it difficult to agree on such things. Taking the politics out of major infrastructure decisions will ensure the best decisions are made for everyone. Having a cross-party consensus and an independent chair will help us make major decisions as a nation, something that’s long been needed.

It will assess the UK’s infrastructure needs every five years, as well as looking ahead 30 years to assess future infrastructure requirements across all key sectors including, rail, roads, energy, water supply and waste. We need big improvements in both transport and energy systems to help the infrastructure sector boom.

With new opinions and a fresh perspective to assess infrastructure requirements to shake up the sector, it will hopefully get us out of the rut we have been stuck in, which in the past has failed to produce the roads, railways, airports, power stations and homes that we need.

Don Ward, chief executive of Constructing Excellence is extremely supportive of the new body, but thinks that its first priority should be housing.

As he said: “You can’t divorce housing from city and regional developments, if it’s about developing the economy for the 21st century, it has to look at the workforce too.”

It’s difficult to change and modernise the housing market, but we need to decide strategically where we’re going to put it. If we put it with the NIC at least we know there will be an independent commission looking at the problem, which is perhaps what is needed, as the government have failed to meet its needs in the past.

The NIC will be made up of around 25-30 permanent staff and I’m hoping they will make the bold decisions that the sector has been crying out for. I urge them to take the risks that people have always been too wary of. The building of the M25 and the Channel Tunnel were both highly protested at the time, just imagine where the country would be now if that hadn’t gone ahead?