Balance for Better – International Womens Day

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

There is a clear move towards embracing inclusion and demolishing stereotypes in the industry. We need people from different personal and professional backgrounds, bringing new and innovative ideas. With the skills shortage at a high, we’re in no position to be looking at anything other than level of skill and potential when recruiting workers.

According to the UK Industry Performance Report, 2017 by Glenigan, only 12% of the industry’s workforce is female, compared to 47% for all sectors nationally. Compared to national averages, women, people with disabilities, the BAME community and those under 24 are under-represented in the construction industry.

To act on this information and their own research, CEOs from 32 of the country’s leading energy and utilities employers have signed up to an industry-wide commitment to attract more diverse and inclusive talent. Amey, Balfour Beatty, Clancy Docwra, Keltbray, Kier and Morrison Utilities and many more have committed to proactively change these statistics and promote their businesses to under-represented talent. Through its work, the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership and its CEOs will highlight the great work already being done by the sector as well as continuing to drive change through its ongoing commitment to inclusive attraction, recruitment, and development of its workforce. The new agreement is underpinned by five principles that commit to working collaboratively and sharing best practice, while creating an inclusive culture that enables firms to attract, recruit and develop people in a way where progress can be measured and transparent.

Employing around 566,000 people across the UK, the utilities sector will need over 220,000 new recruits to fill its expected skills gap by 2027. The future is exciting – and we are the people privileged enough to build it. I think we can all agree that the best way to do that is with a gender-balanced workforce.

CENE are holding an International Women’s Day, Better for Balance event on Thursday 7 March – a follow up to last year’s Press for Progress event. Join us for an interactive morning, hearing from Eliane Algaard, Northumbrian Water, Owen Goodhead and Sarah Sidey, Ranstad CPE, Kieran Thompson, Cundall and Lily Kitchen from Network Rail who are driving change in the industry. We will look at how you can initiate and support change, meet other people with the same aspirations and hear from organisations already working on their diversity and inclusion strategies. Everyone has a part to play in creating change, so we need men and women to join us to and find out what you can do to help.

If you would like to register for this event, please contact Grace Collinson on 0191 500 7880 or grace@cene.org.uk

Bringing knowledge into the 21st century

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

A survey carried out by the UK’s Construction Knowledge Task Group (CKTG) has found that a third of construction practitioners just don’t have easy access to the knowledge they need. The information is there, they just don’t know how or where to access it. Our industry is knowledge-based and without it, the industry is less productive, less innovative and more likely to make mistakes.

Feedback from 299 practitioners from every part of the industry found almost two fifths did not have easy access to all the knowledge they need to do their job – quite a scary statistic considering how much responsibility our industry has. Practitioners also admitted they use less-trusted knowledge sources more frequently than more-trusted knowledge sources, with web searches and free online resources accounting for almost half of all the knowledge accessed. Less specific, traditional ‘learning’ is not as popular, which does make sense when you consider the way the industry is going. We’re moving away from traditional methods of working, so it’s only right that the way we learn and access information changes too. The industry has embraced the internet, we’re accepting new technologies and BIM is second-nature to many of us now. Data and information are finally there, we just need to make sure that knowledge is just as easily accessible. Ann Bentley, Global Board Director at Rider Levett Bucknall, and Member of the Construction Leadership Council said: “we need to bring knowledge into the 21st century and take a more collaborative and systematic approach to how it is prepared and shared” – and I couldn’t agree more.

The survey, which ran at the end of 2018, was intended to help the CKTG steer its work, improving the way industry knowledge is prepared, accessed and applied. Its members include representatives from right across the industry. They met last month and established three workstreams that will be pursued going forward:

  • How should construction knowledge be ‘tagged’ so that it is easier to identify specific types required by practitioners?
  • Could new search tools be developed to help practitioners find the knowledge they need when they need it?
  • Is it possible to co-ordinate subscriptions, sign up forms, memberships and pay walls and to make them more flexible so that it is easier to access multiple knowledge sources through one search query?

In simple terms, we just need to work out how to make the information more accessible and most importantly, make sure people know how and where to access it and it’s up to The Task Group to make sure this happens going forward. I’m keen to see how things change in the future. They seem to know what the problem is, and I trust that they know what needs to be done to solve it – only time will tell.

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 prompt payment still an issue?

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

Prompt payment, or the lack of it, is such a big issue in our industry and the collapse of Carillion last year certainly brought it back into the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons. Not only does it cause economic and social damage, but it has really tarnished the reputation of the industry, something we work so hard to build, but I can’t help but think we’re really not helping ourselves.

Tier one contractors are still paying their suppliers much later than agreed and withholding retention monies rightfully owed to the suppliers. 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.

The Prompt Payment Code Compliance Board is a voluntary board that monitors late payments and enforces the Prompt Payment Code, which was introduced in 2008 in an effort by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to establish a set of voluntary principles for firms to ensure their suppliers are paid fairly and on time. 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 – something which needs to be managed to enable it to do its job. Carillion was one of the signatories of the PPC and therefore could have been subject to investigation, but nobody told them about Carillion’s payment record until after it collapsed, and it was too late.

In an ideal world, late payment would no longer be a thing, but while we work at changing how a lot of companies operate, there are things we can be doing to help. The Board have received very few challenges against poor payers in the last few years and we know from statistics that that’s not because there aren’t any cases. In 2016 it received 16 challenges, 25 in 2017 and 21 last year so there is clearly a reluctance in people putting forward challenges and that needs to change.  As we know, small businesses suffer most, with most of them being used as the bank of bigger companies and its usually SMEs that are scared to put forward challenges. Last year, small businesses were collectively owed £14bn in late payments. That’s across all industries, but I bet our industry contributed a lot towards it.

In everyday life you pay for things immediately, whether that be goods or services, and you wouldn’t dream of asking to delay the payment or paying less than what was due, so why should our industry be any different?

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

Exosuits give industry workers a taste of superhero strength

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

We live in a world where gadgets and technology make our lives easier daily and with wearable technology comes the added promise of increased worker safety and productivity.

Wearable technology is defined as any accessory or piece of clothing incorporating electronic and computer technology. As the industry gets more familiar with technology, digital solutions are being used in all areas of the industry, we’re moving away from paper trails and manual building and towards online solutions, new technology, apps and robots that can do the job for us. Some fear robots will take over and the need for humans in the industry will dwindle, but I think we need to fear technology less and accept it’s going to improve our working life, making once difficult jobs much easier to complete.

Construction workers could soon have a taste of a superhero’s strength, thanks to a robotic vest that is designed to prevent injuries on building sites. Willmott Dixon are the first in the UK to trial the EksoVest, an upper body exoskeleton vest that supports a worker’s arms during heavy lifting using various adjustable springs that transfer the weight of a load. The EksoVest is a spring-loaded exoskeleton for the upper body that makes heavy items feel weightless during lifting, by taking the strain that traditionally would hit the shoulders hard. The power suit will allow workers to spend long days lifting materials and holding tools at awkward angles without the physical stresses usually associated with such tasks. It should lead to teams on site feeling less exerted and improve wellbeing and productivity. For many companies it will overcome the problem of workers’ bodies being gradually broken down over a 20-25-year period, which can result in early retirement or the need to move into other job roles to avoid further injuries or surgery.

The vest costs approximately £5,650, which is a lot of money. However, there are currently more than 100,000 injuries on site each year, which, on top of being painful or life threatening, costs the industry thousands of pounds each year. If the EksoVest can cut a fraction of that, it will be worthwhile in my opinion.

Working on a construction site can easily take its toll on the human body. Tasks can be strenuous, repetitive, high-impact and it shows. Productivity, and workers’ wellbeing and longevity are affected. Wearable technology is now there to lend a helping hand – literally. By the end of this year, a full-body robotically-powered suit is also in the works with Ekso. The kit would allow workers to lift significant weights as they freely move around site without the need for specialist vehicles – Tony Stark, eat your heart 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.

Architecture and Wellbeing

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

Monday of this week (January 21) has been dubbed ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Blue Monday falls on the third Monday of January and is the perfect opportunity to raise the issue of mental wellbeing in the industry.

Construction workers are particularly vulnerable to feeling down after Christmas, long, dark and cold days certainly take their toll. The mental health and wellbeing of workers are a high priority, especially recently, with a number of initiatives in place and organisations starting to take it more seriously.

As an industry responsible for the construction of buildings and offices, we can also make a change and improve the working environments for others.  Almost three-quarters (74%) of UK employees believe that their work environment supports their physical wellbeing. While this is a very encouraging statistic, it still means that more than one in four UK office workers suffer in unhealthy environments. The Wellbeing at Work Study paid particular attention to the concerns of those who are unhappy with their workplace to reveal the biggest pitfalls to avoid.

From a design point of view, over a quarter of UK employees find the acoustics of their office unpleasant & three-quarters of those blamed it on a noisy open plan environment. A further quarter (27%) are frustrated by a lack of privacy. Of the quarter who state their office does not encourage them to move around, three-quarters (72%) blame the awkward design of their workplace. A lot of the complaints regarding office design came from lack of colour (80%) and greenery (64%).

The results show the impact that small changes can have on employee wellbeing and the boost that can be received from a splash of colour or the introduction of some greenery. However, design considerations now go way beyond aesthetics and the understanding of what makes a healthy architecture has changed radically. What used to be about hygiene and health is now more about psychological wellbeing. I don’t think there’s a question of whether architecture affects our health and wellbeing, it’s more about how much it does.

We have all heard the statistics: one in four people will suffer from mental health problems. However, the reality is that everyone will at some point see their mental health take a dip, so it would be more accurate to say that everybody at some point will suffer from mental health problems. Ignoring this fact can lead to high turnover of staff, loss of expertise, a demotivated workforce and more severe cases. If we can make somebody’s life easier, whether that’s support in work, the décor of an office or the design of the building, then why wouldn’t we? We’re the only industry that can have an impact on the design of the building, so I think we need to take our role and responsibility seriously.

 

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

Are we doing all that we can to get children to consider a career in the industry after school?

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

As an industry we’ve struggled to appeal to the younger generation and increase the number of children considering construction as a career when they leave school. We have been working to challenge perceptions that the industry is a male dominated, old fashioned, dirty industry, which is a good place to start.

Over Christmas, the LEGO Movie was released in cinemas which featured a construction worker as the main character who is guided by a diverse band of ‘master builders’ that literally use their construction skills to build their way past every challenge. The film was so popular, grossing half a billion worldwide and LEGO struggled to keep up with demand for its toys after the film’s release. Great news for film makers and a positive step getting children to put down tablets and pick up building blocks (like the good old days!) but is it enough to get them to want to work in the industry? Sadly, I think not.

For years we’ve had the likes of Bob the Builder, Minecraft and the first LEGO Movie showcasing our industry but that still doesn’t seem to be working. Even newer TV shows are trying but they still aren’t getting it quite right. Paw Patrol, a very popular children’s cartoon about a group of rescue dogs who work together to protect the community. Each dog has a different job ranging from a fireman and paramedic to recycling and Rubble is the construction dog. While it’s great he’s flying the flag for the industry, he’s also male and an English Bulldog, one of the most muscular breeds, which certainly isn’t a requirement to work in the industry.

Whatever makes children swap building blocks for bricks and mortar in the future is going to be more than a popular film at the cinema. We all watched Mary Poppins as well but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to start hiring magical nannies, as nice as that would be. We need to crack our marketing and work on our public perception, with people of all ages, not just children. 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. 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 certainly not just hard hats and muddy boots anymore. 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.

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.

The Environmental Impact of Concrete

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

Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence. It is second only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet. But, while it may have shaped most of our built environment, it also has a huge carbon footprint.

According to Chatham House, cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. To put that into perspective, if the cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. It contributes more CO2 than aviation fuel and isn’t far behind the global agriculture business. Following this research, architects have been urged to reconsider their use of concrete given that the UK has set a 2050 target to reduce its carbon emissions to 80% less than it was in 1990, so we need to be doing everything we can.

It’s no surprise that cement is so widely used, it’s a remarkably good construction material. A mix of sand, gravel, a cement binder and water, concrete is widely embraced by architects, structural engineers, developers and builders. It’s affordable, which is always a bonus, and you can produce it almost anywhere. Perhaps it’s not about reducing how much cement we use but more looking into how it is produced. Research from Chatham House found that more than 50% of emissions are linked to the process for producing clinker, one of the main ingredients involved in the manufacture of cement. There are alternatives to cement such as the waste from steel production, although there is not a huge supply. Obviously, I don’t think we need to stop using it, but I do think the industry needs to take this into consideration and industry workers need to be more efficient when using it.

The IPCC’s latest report warned that the world has just 12 years left to moderate CO2 emissions and halt devastating global warming, so it’s not just a case of ‘trying’ to be green, it’s getting pretty serious and I certainly don’t want our industry to be the one of the main causes given everything we’ve been doing over the years to improve.

We recognise that we work in one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what we do, we have potential to cause a lot of damage but that means we also have the most potential to make a difference on protecting the environment. Companies 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 the norm, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which are slowly making a difference.  While the aesthetics of a building are still important, we need to consider the materials we’re using and their wider impact – hopefully we’re all in agreement on that.

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 can we expect for 2019?

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

Happy New Year to you all – I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas break and are raring to get started. I cannot believe it’s 2019 and another new year is ahead of us, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months have in store– I think it’s certainly going to be a busy one! While you can never predict exactly what the year ahead holds, there are a few things I expect to see, Brexit being the biggest change, but I won’t hold my breath on that.

Let’s start with a positive. The Construction Products Association (CPA) predict that output will accelerate in by 2.3% in 2019 and 1.9% 2020. House-building is forecast to be the primary driver of growth for the whole industry. In private housing, first-time buyer demand, enabled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, continues to boost sentiment and encourage an increase in housebuilding activity outside London. There are ambitious housebuilding targets both in the public and private sectors. But luckily, we are seeing growing interest in offsite manufacture, digital and sustainable construction. Compared to other industries we’ve been slow to adapt to the digital age, but the smart building tech industry has grown significantly, and the pace of change is now inevitable.

For many years we’ve struggled with a skills shortage and with less people coming into the industry we’re now struggling with an ageing workforce. Organisations that can attract and retain a young workforce are likely to score well in bid processes, as they can provide some evidence on delivery capability. As budgets get tighter, clients are looking to added value within bids as a way of getting something extra. Monetising your added-value benefits is important to demonstrate the financial value and there can be other benefits too – social value, for example, which is obviously a really big deal. Certainly, things to think about going into the year.

The North East industry had a good 2018 with many of our projects/companies being recognised at the National Constructing Excellence Awards. Seven of our entries came away as winners or highly commended, it was a very good night for the North East, one I’m extremely proud of.

We’ve overcome some tough challenges in the last year alone and that only proves to me that this industry can achieve anything! The demise of Carillion resulted in a poor performance for the industry at the start of last year, which combined with the bad weather, was estimated to have lost UK construction £1bn in productivity, surely 2019 can get off to a better start.  So, let’s get our heads down and have a good year – bring it on 2019, we’re ready for you!

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 look back over 2018

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

It’s that time of year again when everywhere you look there are reviews of the last 12 months and predictions of what we can expect from the year ahead. If I had to summarise what 2018 was like for our industry, I would say three things- progressive, amazing and bloomin’ hard work!

A new year is a natural point in time to stop, assess how things have gone over the past 12 months, look at everything that we’ve achieved and look at what we can do better in the coming year. While you can never predict exactly what the year ahead holds, I’m sure we all had a few things in mind, the outcome of Brexit being the main one, yet here we are one year later and still pretty much none the wiser. Instead, we got the collapse of Carillion, a never-ending winter and little Grenfell resolution.

We had the alarming statistics that 56% of female respondents to Building’s survey on women in construction had experienced sexual harassment and 33% been discriminated against on the grounds of sex in the previous 12 months. The gender pay gap report in April confirmed the disappointing news that most women in the industry work in low-paid roles. We also had the really scary news that low-skilled male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the national average, with the number of suicides in construction now six times higher than deaths caused by falls from height.

We didn’t get off to the best start of the year with snow and ice sticking around until the end of March, causing problems for the industry’s output in the first quarter. But eventually output picked up and the government published the Construction Sector Deal, which was the biggest investment in the industry in a decade, something we’d all been longing for. The deal, worth £420m aims to transform the industry by investing in new technologies to increase productivity and tackle the housing crisis. It supports the development of affordable, easy to construct homes and commits to increasing the number of apprenticeships starts and T Level placements.

Last month, the chancellor gave the final Budget before Brexit and it made some small adjustments but lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. I feel like I’ve been saying this year in year out, but with the fallout of Brexit still looming, who knows what next year holds. So, there’s just one thing left for me to say, from all of us at Constructing Excellence in the North East, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year. Let’s see what 2019 has in store for us – one thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be a quiet one.

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.

Industry precautions when working in bad weather

If you thought last winter was cold, I’ve got bad news for you. This winter is expected to be the coldest for ten years.

According to weather forecasters Exacta Weather, temperatures are expected to fall well below average with things getting even worse in the New Year with widespread snowfall, icy storms and high winds. In the winter, strong winds, cold temperatures, snow and rain have the potential to cause serious hazards for workers in the industry, both regarding disruption to current building projects and possible damage to existing buildings that may not meet current wind and snow load standards.

External walls and roofs not designed to withstand such extreme weather demands could suffer severe damage. However, with preventative action the extent of such damage can be lessened, according to UK leading roofing and cladding specialists, CA Group Ltd. Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed changing weather intensity with severe flooding, record summer temperatures, early snowfall and now we’re facing a potentially harsh winter. Such unpredictable situations can prove costly, severely impacting timeframes on new builds and refurbishment projects and putting older buildings under much pressure.  Traditionally, buildings were designed with local climates in mind and not for worse-case and unpredictable weather, which means they are more susceptible to weather damage. This is much less of an issue for new builds which tend to be better designed, better equipped and much more capable of responding to extreme weather.

Poor specifications can lead to poor installations – resulting in major failures. Ridge and verge flashings that have ripped off the building are some of the most common faults and can often prove costly. Bull nose features at eaves and verges, unless correctly designed and correctly installed with adequate fasteners, are prone to failure.  Ridges, corners and edges of a building are most susceptible to high winds.  It is therefore crucial for project-specific calculations to be undertaken to establish the loads, complete with full design data for the cladding systems and details, or the buildings envelope will not be designed to withstand the wind loads in the concentrated areas.

In anticipation of the bad weather, there are preventative measures that can be taken. Something as simple as introducing snow guards and measures to manually remove the snow can prevent serious accidents but my one piece of advice would just be prepared for the weather or work with a company who knows how to deal with it.  CA Group work to establish structural standards, load capacities and risk analysis to provide a thorough assessment of a building’s needs over its life, taking into account snow, wind pressure, location and altitude. Working from such an informed position results in a much higher quality build, with the likelihood of weather damage being far less.

For further guidance please contact CA Group Ltd on technical@cagroup.co.uk