3rd July Journal Column

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

Although technology and modern tools have helped speed up and improve the construction process, the need for manual labour has always remained constant, but this could be about to change.

Could it soon be the end of working life as we know it? Is the robotic revolution coming, and does it have the potential to significantly change the industry? The reason I ask is because an Australian engineer has recently created a fully automatic bricklaying machine. The robot, named Hadrian, after the wall, is set to speed up the bricklaying process.

Research has shown that approximately 10 per cent of manufacturing tasks are currently carried out by machines, with the number predicted to rise to 25 per cent by 2025.

Hadrian can lay 1,000 bricks an hour, create an entire house in just two days and has the potential to build up to 150 homes a year.  It works 20 times faster than humans and can work 24 hours a day, without the need to recuperate with a cuppa half way through the day like the rest of us. Could this finally be the answer to our skills shortage crisis?

The robot has a 28m long boom connected to its body, with a giant robotic ‘hand’ attached to it which picks up the bricks and lays them in sequence. Impressively the robot even has a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) which works out the structure of the house and places the brick in accordance, minimising waste and guaranteeing accuracy within one hundredth of an inch.

Hadrian even applies the mortar or adhesive itself, is capable of leaving space for wiring and plumbing and can scan and cut the bricks, meaning no human element is actually required.

Bricklaying may be one of the oldest trades, but it’s also one of the most dangerous and time consuming, but with this advance in technology, 12 hour days and a high number of worker injuries may soon be a thing of the past.

The idea of a ‘robot’ is seen as attractive technology, and shows younger people that our industry can be ‘cool’. Mark Pivac, Hadrian’s creator, hopes it will help attract a younger audience to the construction profession.

The robot, which is still only a prototype in Western Australia took 10 years and cost £4.5million to build. The robot will expand to the rest of Australia before the rest of the world, so we needn’t get too excited yet. Maybe don’t hang up your working boots just yet, the industry still needs you!

25th June Newsletter

This week’s features include a full list of forthcoming events, please click on the link below

June 25th 

26th June Journal Column

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

This week I attended The Charted Institute of Housing’s (CIH) annual conference in Manchester – a must-attend event for anyone working in housing or related industries.

One of the main presentations was a discussion all about offsite construction, a big talking point in our industry at the minute. Speakers featured housing heavy-weights discussing the realities of offsite construction, the benefits that can be reaped from it and what has stopped it working in the past.

For those of you that don’t know, 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.

It’s a method of construction now widely used in the housing and education sector and it’s something that could be just what we’re looking for when it comes to how we ease the housing crisis in the UK. It’s no secret that we are currently suffering from a shortage of new homes. With only 63 per cent of on-site built projects being delivered on time, the need for new methods and solutions has never been higher. Off-site construction allows for the building frame to be built simultaneously to the foundations, meaning projects can be delivered in up to half the time of traditional construction- a huge selling point.

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 offsite 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. This is a much better way of preventing waste and reducing unnecessary costs. Research has shown that off-site construction generates up to 90 per cent less waste than site-based building methods.

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!

In the affordable homes sector, charity and industry bodies are calling for the Government to increase house building to address the housing shortage. Pre-fabricated homes helped solve the crisis in the 40s and 50s, and technology in particular has advanced in huge ways since then, so why can’t it work now?

19th June Journal Column

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

I’m a real advocate for welcoming more women into our industry, and have discussed many times how important I think it is to increase the number of women in construction and related industries.

There is always talk (especially from me) about ways to boost these numbers, but there’s little attention focussed on how we retain these women.

It’s estimated that 22,000 qualified women have not returned to work in the engineering sector after a career or maternity break. This is a massive loss to the industry, and a loss we cannot afford to have when we are facing such a big skills gap. Losing women in the industry is not only a loss in terms of skill, but it cuts ties that women have within the local community, schools and with parents/influencers that can be vital further down the line.

National Women in Engineering Day, which takes place next Wednesday, highlights the opportunities available for women in engineering. The day takes place at a time when it has never been more important to address the engineering skills shortage.

According to latest research from the National Specialist Contractors Council, the number of specialist contractors struggling to recruit skilled labour is at its highest level in 14 years.

I spoke to one employer who has been looking to recruit someone for six months. There are plenty of people out of work looking for jobs, but none seem to have the adequate skills required for the available roles.

Encouraging women into engineering careers will increase diversity and inclusion as well as filling the substantial future job opportunities that have been predicted for our sector. We are expecting more jobs, so it’s important to ensure we have skilled employees to fill them, and it would be a bonus if some of them were women.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) last year predicted around 180,000 new jobs will be needed nationally up to 2019, and at least 2,000 will be here in the North East.

Thankfully, the likes of Balfour Beatty and Carillion have already pledged their support saying that by 2016, 30 per cent of individuals on their apprenticeship and cadet programmes will be women and 40 per cent of undergraduate sponsorship opportunities will be offered to women.

It’s great to see some big industry organisations taking a well overdue stance on educating and recruiting. I’ve said many times that I felt we needed to up our game when it came to encouraging women into the industry, and it’s good to see some steps in the right direction.

Recruiting more women is only the first step, but it is important that talented women are nurtured and encouraged to stay – the retention of any skilled employee will result in more benefits for the company.

18th June Newsletter

Today’s newsletter includes an article from Xsite Architecture, Surgo Construction along with a full list of forthcoming events

June 18th 

12th June Journal Column

APSBy Phillippa Webb, Associate CK21 and NE Chair of Association of Project Safety (APS)

Health and safety is relevant to all businesses, but it is particularly important in the construction industry.

Businesses tend to focus on safety rather than health. There have been big improvements and preventions put in place recently to reduce the number of construction related injuries, although health issues still continue to affect workers.

Those working in the construction industry make up only five per cent of UK workers; however they make up 27 per cent of work related fatality cases and 10 per cent of major injuries in the workplace.

The main health risks relating to construction work range from; cancer to work related stress and asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and 3,700 deaths. The most significant cause of these cancers is asbestos.

Asbestos is the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers and can cause two types of cancer: mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer, both of which are almost always fatal.

Although it is no longer used, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It’s difficult to just avoid asbestos as fragments can be found in rubble and soil and aren’t always visible. This, along with other issues such as silca dust requires constant vigilance from the industry.

It’s important to make employers and employees aware of the risks in order to prevent them, which is why I’m a big advocate for UK Health and Safety Week. Taking place from 15-19 June it will celebrate the achievements of UK practitioners and this year will be focusing on protecting workers’ health. APS is also integrally involved in the Construction Health Leadership Group which is looking to wake the industry up to the huge issues of health.

The Health and Safety Executive suggest you assess, control and then review the plans put in place to control construction health risks. It suggests the following tips to keep you safe:

  • Plan– your overall strategy
  • Identify – the health hazards linked to your work
  • Assess– the significance of these hazards
  • Involve– workers in managing health risks

Once all controls are in place it is essential to monitor that they are all working, continuously supervising workers and monitoring and maintaining controls. These are all simple and easy ways to reduce the risk of health problems for workers.

Managing health and safety is literally a matter of life or death, it’s vital, especially in our industry and businesses would be careless not to take the necessary steps to prevent health risks.

11th June Newsletter

To view this week’s newsletter please click on the link 

Catriona discusses the Queens Speech in this week’s Journal Column

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

Last week saw the Queen announce her first Conservative Speech in almost two decades. The speech set out David Cameron’s plans for the years ahead and gave us insight into which direction he wants to take the country. From the bills and laws mentioned, there were a few which will directly affect the construction industry.

The Housing Bill includes plans to extend the Right to Buy scheme, giving one million people the chance to buy their properties. A huge step as up to now only council tenants have had the right to buy the homes they had previously rented.

The scheme sounds good theoretically, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. The reality is that authorities will have to sell off existing stock before they can even begin to fund and deliver the promise of affordable properties.

Plans were also announced to create 200,000 new starter homes, which will be offered to first-time buyers under 40 at 20 per cent below the open market value. It’s all good and well promising to provide these starter homes, but we must ensure we can meet the huge demand for housing it will create.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has suggested that 200,000 houses will be needed every year to meet the rising demand. If we fail to meet such demand then these schemes will have very limited impact on the housing market

Also included in the speech was the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill which will see power handed over to cities with newly elected metro mayors to help build the Northern Powerhouse. The new bill is positive news for our industry as it will allow cities to take responsibility for issues like transport, housing, skills, health and social care.

These plans have huge potential although devolution could be disastrous if it leads to a number of disconnected approaches. The devolved authorities must never lose sight of the bigger picture, and ensure that their plans fit in seamlessly to Britain’s national infrastructure.

The bills all provide potential for the construction industry and with David Cameron insisting that the North East won’t be left behind during the Conservative government; I’m feeling optimistic for construction in the North East in the years ahead.

Cameron promised us big things, from dualling the A1 to improving the A19 and investing in High Speed Rail. These are all things needed in the North East to ensure it continues to grow and creates jobs. Let’s hope we get everything we’ve been promised…

4th June Newsletter

Please click on the link to view this week’s newsletter which includes a full list of forthcoming events – June 4th 

29th May Journal Column

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

Late payment is such a big issue in our industry, and one I feel is never ending. Finance is a huge problem for our industry and a one I don’t think we’ve taken seriously enough in the past.

But, the government are at it again with new plans to tackle the ever growing problem. Their new plans are said to include a future consultation on allowing bodies such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) to act on behalf of their members to challenge unfair payment terms.

Also mentioned is the creation of the new Small Business Conciliation Service (SBCS) which will be put in place to help resolve disputes between small businesses and their clients. The SBCS is based on an Australian system which, as far as I can tell, has been a success in getting small businesses the money they are owed.  The measure will form a part of a new Enterprise Bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week.

I still can’t believe the government has to go to such an extent to put several plans in place to ensure that people are given the money they are rightly owed, but this finally sounds like something that could actually work.

However, the success of the SBCS is likely to be dependent on SMEs referring late payment issues and disputes in the first place. This has been the case for the current plans put in place; SMEs are unwilling to refer their issues and disputes in fear of jeopardising their business relationships.

From April 2016, large businesses are going to be required to publish information about their payment practices twice a year before they can join or remain on supplier lists. It is expected that they will have to report on their standard payment terms, average time taken to pay, the proportion of invoices paid in 30 days or less, 60 days or less and beyond 60 days.

Along with these new plans, there will also be measures put in place to reinforce the plans already in place.

As of 2018, through a deal struck with the Construction Leadership Council, a voluntary charter has been created which will encourage clients and contractors alike to sign up to follow 11 fair payment commitments, including standard 30-day payment terms. When the charter was announced people questioned its impact due to the low number of signatories at first launch, with many commenting that without further supportive legislation there wouldn’t be a significant change.

Well, now the much needed supportive legislation is finally here, with plenty of plans in place to reinforce the need of paying on time, so we should finally see that change we so desperately need. There should never be a choice for fair payment to be an optional agreement, people deserve to be paid, and on time!