17th July Journal Column

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

With the news that the government have scrapped plans to make all new UK homes carbon neutral, it’s not surprising that house builders, planners and green groups alike are unhappy.

As part of planning measures announced by the Treasury last week, the government will no longer be introducing requirements for zero carbon homes in 2016 and zero carbon non-domestic buildings in 2019.

Had the plans gone ahead it would have ensured that all new houses/buildings from 2016 would generate as much energy, through renewable sources such as wind or solar power, as they would use in heating, ventilation, hot water and lighting.

These plans, which sound like they could have achieved so much, were to be supported by tighter energy efficiency standards and a scheme which would allow house builders to deliver equivalent carbon savings off-site. However, the excitement was short lived as plans were axed on Friday.

Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, Julie Hirigoyen has called the move “the death knell” for the zero carbon homes policy, some may say death knell is slightly dramatic but I couldn’t agree more, the plans we were promised have been destroyed.

The house-building industry heavily invested in delivering energy-efficient homes. As a country, we are legally committed to achieving at least an 80 per cent reduction in the carbon emissions from our homes by 2050 and cancelling the policy is taking a step in the wrong direction to achieving this. I can imagine those in the house-building industry feel like they’re stuck in limbo, they somehow have to work towards reducing carbon emissions for the future without building energy-efficient homes, which sounds near enough impossible to me.

Gordon Brown announced the policy in 2006 meaning it has been almost 10 years since the policy was put in place. That’s 10 years of commitment, progress and investment from the industry, which is a long way to come for the outcome to be only disappointment.

There are still those who are in support of the government’s decision, having said that the aim of reducing carbon emissions to zero was far too ambitious. Given that 85 per cent of existing homes will still be standing by 2050, more work needs to be done to tackle the issues with current UK homes. Here’s hoping the government announce plans to refurbish our existing homes, showing they are making some effort in tackling carbon reduction even if it isn’t what we were originally promised – something is still better than nothing.

We’re holding an event on ‘Future Housing’ in September, looking at Sustainable Homes, PassivHaus and Smart Homes with talks from industry experts on minimalising bills, creating a healthy home and a presentation covering the creation of low carbon, zero energy homes.

To register interest or for more information on the event please contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 374 0233 or leanne@cene.org.uk

10th July Journal Column

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

Back in February I wrote about the Construction Skills Certification Scheme’s (CSCS) plans to scrap the current suite of 13 cards and introduce one smart card to be used by all construction workers. I was fully on board with the plan and thought they were needed now more than ever.

The plan was for the new cards to be simpler to understand and to reduce the time site managers spent checking workers cards, with the hope it would eliminate the number of fake cards being used around the country, something that has become quite an issue of late.

After being introduced in 2010, all CSCS cards now have microchip technology embedded in them, making it easier for site managers to access information on each worker. The chip stores qualification information and can be read with either a dedicated reader device or on a smartphone or tablet app – there really is an app for everything now!

Yet despite it being easier than ever to check cards, 69 per cent of construction workers are still using the dated paper-based system with only 6 per cent using the new smart technology.

A survey of 1,180 construction workers showed that whilst 86 per cent of cardholders had their cards checked, only 43 per cent were checked to see if they were actually qualified.

Of those managers who actually check cards on their construction sites, one in five said they have seen fake cards in the past year meaning those workers are most likely unqualified for the job they have been doing. Using fake cards is a fraudulent offence, and it’s becoming increasingly common, with many cases ending up in court, and rightly so, if you break the law you’ve got to be prepared to face the consequences.

Recently, a site manager became suspicious of three people on site and what he thought were fake CSCS cards, he was well within his rights to report it and it ended up with one man being arrested and given 18 months imprisonment for being in possession of several fake cards, and to him I’d ask, was it really worth the risk?

Companies should be taking advantage of how easy it is to check cards and qualifications with the introduction of smart technology. I really thought it would take off more than it has; work needs to be done to increase the use of it and finally make basic visual card checks a thing of the past.

There’s always more to be done, whether it’s site managers making more of an effort to check CSCS cards, or workers sharing intelligence and reporting anything suspicious. Let’s pull together and protect the reputation of our industry, all these scandalous stories appearing in the press of arrests and fraudulent behaviour are giving a bad name to what I know is a good, honest and hard-working industry.

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!

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.

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.

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…

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!

22nd May Journal Column

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

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. And, as a result of this yawned skilled gap, around a quarter of firms say they have had to turn down work- a figure higher now than at any time during the recession.

And the increasing skills gap also means that prices are on the up, with 54 per cent of respondents experiencing an increase in tender prices last quarter, double the level of this time last year. This might be good for us, but isn’t something our clients are going to like after too long I’m sure…

But it seems that whilst a skills gap isn’t great for our industry as a whole, it does offer some individuals a golden ticket.  We all know that our industry is hiring because work levels are on the up, which means that for those already working in construction, an array of opportunities are on offer.

People who would have normally been looking to move up the career ladder when the recession hit are realising that, after a long time, the wind is now in their favour and it’s time to make a move. And the current state of play in the construction jobs market means that individuals can reposition themselves to build a career in any company they want (to a certain degree). A survey by The Institute of Leadership and Management reports that 37% of workers plan to leave their job during 2015, a sign of the times and a significant increase from the 19% who planned to move in 2014, and the 13% in 2013.

It’s safe to say that construction is now a job-seekers playground with simple supply and demand pushing up salaries and the type of offers being thrown about. But despite the high level of ambition being seen across our industry at the minute, it’s vital that individuals remember that despite needing staff, employers won’t be looking to take on somebody who isn’t right, just to fill a gap. At an event I attended last week, I spoke to somebody who had interviewed three people for a site manager role a few weeks prior but didn’t employ anyone because they just weren’t the right fit. This is where the dark art of poaching begins to creep in.

If employers can’t find the right person from an initial advert, then the next step is to begin luring those experienced employees from rival firms and this is something I’m sure we will see and hear more of in the next few months…

15th May Journal Column

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