6th October Journal Column

By Richard Waterhouse, CEO of NBS

I’ve always been a supporter of encouraging young people into the construction industry and in the past, the problem always seemed to be with education, not just in skills and training like you would expect, but more in simply educating them on what the industry has to offer.

As an industry, we realised something had to change, and we needed 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 not just hard hats and muddy boots. NBS and contractor McAleer Rushe recently partnered with NE1 CAN to do just that.

The NE1 CAN initiative is a project created by NE1 to secure opportunities for young people to gain knowledge and expertise about careers to improve their skills, pursue their career path, with the aim of getting young people into employment and contribute positively to the North-East economy. They work with employers to schedule bespoke events and programmes of activity. Their event with NBS focussed on both the traditional and non-traditional careers in the industry, particularly digital construction.

NBS, the leading global provider of technical information, specification and BIM tools to industry professionals, invited Year 11 students from Trinity Academy, on a live construction site tour and a visit to their offices in Newcastle City Centre, the Old Post Office, where they employ almost 200 people.

While visiting the NBS office students engaged with a range of activities including taking a quiz to see which construction profession they were most suited to, trialled some augmented reality apps and had their first introduction to the world of digital construction. They were introduced to the Go Construct website, which was created as part of the campaign to encourage people to consider a career in construction in an effort to fill more than 220,000 new jobs that will be created in the sector.

It’s important to ensure everyone is well informed on what the industry can offer, whether that is going into schools, community/youth groups or informing parents, everyone needs to be given access to the information. Trinity Academy, Benwell, has the highest factors of deprivation in the city and NBS’s commitment to supporting local education enabled them to showcase what is on offer should the pupils choose a career in the industry. NBS aims to support local education, opening minds to non-traditional routes and careers in construction and show how traditional and new digital construction roles fit together.

It’s important we focus on the people. The people make our industry great and if we want the industry to keep going from strength to strength, we need to take the time to focus on the next generation; after all the future of the industry is in their hands.

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.

29th September Journal Column


By Gillian Gomersall, Director of NRL

Construction is one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what it does, it has the most potential to make a difference. More than any other industry, its decisions, innovation, ideas and products have a direct impact on the environment, the local community and area.

The industry provides huge social value opportunities. Social value is the notion of a contract being awarded to a company based on the impact the agreement will have on the wider community, rather than just the price being the lowest. It can be anything from, providing work opportunities, using local suppliers or recycled materials or engaging with schools or community groups.

Recruitment company, NRL Ltd has been working with the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) charity to help recruit volunteers. RVS is a charity that has helped older people stay active, independent and able to continue to contribute to society. They help with everything from day to day tasks such as; leaving the house or shopping, popping round for a chat and raising awareness of the issues older people face on a national level.

NRL provides recruitment, training, rail maintenance and Non-Destructive testing (NDT) services to the technical, engineering and construction industries. They provide people and skills across the UK and internationally and have a database of over 275,000 potential candidates. They have successfully provided thousands of trades and staff to major capital construction projects on both a temporary and permanent basis, something the industry is extremely grateful of, given the skills shortage they’ve struggled with for some time. NRL strive to set the industry standard in recruitment and contracting services, but their work with RVS is also setting the standard for companies outside of the industry.

NRL actively encourages its staff to give back to local communities and offers all members of staff a charity day to volunteer or fundraise for a charity of their choice. Six members of NRL staff have already used their charity days to help out at RVS coffee mornings. The events were held in conjunction with Marks & Spencer and were a chance for service users and volunteers to get together and enjoy an afternoon of coffee, cakes and singing; for most users, this is the only time they get to leave the house. They also held pop up volunteer recruitment stores at The Bridges, Sunderland and had an impressive 9 sign ups in one day!

NRL pride themselves on their core values; openness, care, accountability, professionalism, commerciality and integrity. Core values are what support the vision, shape the culture and reflect what a company values. They are used in the decision-making process, and should be honoured through all aspects of the company, regardless of the industry. Having encouraged others to volunteer, NRL put their money where their mouth is and got involved. Their commitment to their values, the industry and the local community should be commended and other companies in the industry could follow suit.

For more information on NRL, please contact Director, Gillian Gomersall, on 0191 418 8067 or email ggomersall@nrl.co.uk

22nd September Journal Column


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

The industry’s skills shortage has been topical for a number of years, with initiatives and training to upskill employees and train new recruits with the skills the industry needs. 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 more workers.

To be anywhere near reaching the targets set by Construction 2025, we need to be encouraging the entire talent pool and not excluding potential candidates, for any reason. We need diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, values, experience and behaviours. 

Without realising, we’re all guilty of unconscious bias – making snap judgements about someone or something based on pre-existing opinions or views, our opinions are formed based on our culture and background.  Unconscious bias can influence the type of people we recruit and who we choose to promote, and it means your company will miss out on the different opinions, experiences and beliefs a diverse workforce can offer.

Constructing Equality works with the industry to raise the profile of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) industry professionals and provide support and advice for the workers that need it. They also run unconscious bias training, coaching and workshops to ensure everyone is given a fair chance, whether that be in recruitment or just providing an opinion that is heard.

Attitudes towards the industry’s LGBT workforce are improving and many firms are working towards creating a more inclusive environment. Companies including Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier and Laing O’Rourke marched for the first time at Pride under the LGBT network group, #BuildingEquality. Last year, the results of Construction News’ annual LGBT+ survey, showed that approx. 71% of the industry’s LGBT workforce felt they could not be open about their sexuality or gender on construction sites, and more than half felt being LGBT stopped them progressing in their career – a heartbreaking statistic to read. I’m interested to see the results from this year’s survey, after the industry was so well represented in several Pride marches up and down the country.

As in any industry, people perform better when they can be themselves. Research has shown that making the workplace more inclusive for LGBT employees brings business benefits including: better job satisfaction and productivity among staff, better staff retention, more choice when recruiting new staff and an overall improved reputation.

The industry is no longer the ‘stereotypical’ dirty, dangerous construction site full of white, heterosexual, ‘tough’ men. We’ve come on leaps and bounds with understanding the positive benefits of a diverse workforce and multiple initiatives and schemes to support further improvement.

Here at CENE, we are planning to hold a meeting to discuss setting up an LGBT network for construction in the North East. If you are interested in getting involved either as someone who identifies as LGBT or as an ally, please contact us.

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.

15th September Journal Column

By Stephanie Glendinning, Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean of Strategic Projects for Newcastle University’s Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

The BBC News website recently featured a number of articles about familiar landmarks on journeys that mean home is just a few more minutes away. You won’t be surprised to hear that The Angel of the North, with its view over both the East Coast Main Line and A1, featured from our region. There’s no greater site than The Angel of the North after a long journey home.

This prompted me to reflect on just how often the built environment is used to not only identify home, but to symbolise a town or city. We do it locally. In Morpeth, the clock tower. Durham, the cathedral. Gateshead, the Sage. And there are few sights a North Easterner will take more pride in than the Great North Run pictured on the Tyne Bridge but enough romance. Whether conscious or otherwise, built environment and infrastructure influences how people perceive a place, its economy and its people.

For example, in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa isn’t simply a collection of hotel, office and residential space. It is a statement of ambition, prosperity, and technical ability. There are many more examples around the world, from various points in history, of buildings and constructions that have symbolised wealth, fortitude and capability, such as, Hadrian’s Wall, The Empire State Building, and the Millau Viaduct.

There is already a great deal of the North East’s built environment in which we can take great pride and this week saw the opening of another fantastic addition. Newcastle University’s £59m Urban Sciences Building is the latest building to be completed as part of the £350m Science Central initiative on the former Scottish and Newcastle brewery site. The building will be home to the University’s School of Computing, and there is plenty of teaching, research and study space incorporated in to the 12,500sqm design. But there is much more to the building than meets the eye. Designed as a ‘building as lab’, it has been built not only to provide a world class academic space but to inform the next generation of urban sustainability. 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 urban infrastructure.

The construction process is something we can be proud of too. Not only was it delivered on time, on budget, but Bowmer & Kirkland’s use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the project has set new standards for the university in the management of residual risk in build projects.

The North East has a built environment littered with striking landmarks, great achievements and a rich history. With the Urban Sciences Building, we also now have a project that others will look to and study in the future as engineers, designers and researchers around the world seek to develop cities sustainably.

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

8th September Journal Column


By John Nielsen Director of CK21 and CIC/APS/CENE board member

The Construction Industry Council, North East are holding a North East Construction Summit on Wednesday 20 September at Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel. The aim of the Summit is to work with the construction industry leaders from the region and national experts to develop a North East Construction Strategy focussed specifically on the issues, strengths and potential of our region whilst also taking into consideration the national factors affecting the North East – finally an initiative focussed solely on helping the North East.

In 2015 the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) commissioned Mark Farmer to review the labour model in the industry and look at the constraints that limit housebuilding and infrastructure development in the UK. The report, subtitled ‘Modernise or Die’, was a hard-read, identifying factors that have contributed to the downfall of the industry over the years, including low productivity, a dysfunctional training, funding and delivery model and a lack of collaboration. The report gave us a realistic view of where the industry was at and suggested what was needed to help the industry progress. Mark Farmer will start the Summit by discussing his report in more detail to help us assess the issues, strengths and potential in the North East.

Other topics that will be covered include: Innovation, People and Skills, Productivity, Procurement and Digital Solutions. Digital is the key enabler to allow us to build a more sustainable built environment, and we’ve certainly upped our game in terms of digital solutions over the years. The Building Information Modelling (BIM) level 2 mandate is now well underway, we’ve got apps for managing health and safety, augmented and virtual reality, even robot builders. The NBS also launched their Online Viewer, a quick and easy way for everyone working on a project to view a 3D model and associated specification without the need for additional software or a licence. With just a web browser and a free NBS ID, projects can be brought to life with linked manufacturer and specification data.

We might be making progress in the digital world but in terms of house building, we still have a long way to go. In the North East last year, an estimated 6,440 homes were built vs an annual target of 9,000 and only 1,420 of the 3,800 target for affordable homes were built. We need to take a step back and look at the region as whole, to think of ways that everyone can benefit – and that’s exactly what the North East Construction Strategy plans to do.

Speakers on the day include; Don Ward, CEO, Construction Excellence; Steve Crake, Head of Procurement and Supply Chain, Northumbrian Water; Dale Sinclair, RIBA Ambassador for Collaboration and Technical and many more.

To book your place at the North East Construction Summit or book exhibition space please contact CENE on 0191 5007880, catriona@cene.org.uk or amy@cene.org.uk

1st September Journal Column

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

The NHS have been working with ten housing developments across the country to build and shape communities.

The new proposal to build 10 ‘healthy new towns’ from Darlington to Devon, will unite public health, NHS providers and commissioners, and planning and housing development. If the news that they’re planning on building 76,000 new-build homes across England, wasn’t good enough, they’re also going to use incentives to encourage those living in them to live healthier lifestyles.

Residents could win free cinema tickets, food discounts and low-cost gym memberships if they sign up to apps that track their exercise progress, encouraging residents to be more active. If they hit exercise targets, residents could even be offered money off their supermarket bills – every little helps, especially when you’ve just bought a new-build home.

Plans include providing access to safe green spaces to play; fast-food free zones around schools; neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible; and easier access to public transport with safer cycling and pedestrian networks. There have been suggestions of ‘dementia friendly’ streets with wider pavements, fewer trip hazards and LCD moving signs to make directions easier.

In Darlington, the only North-East development (so far), there are plans to build 2,500 new homes and a group of ‘virtual care homes’, a group of homes with shared facilities will link to a digital care hub, allowing residents to live independently whilst also giving them the reassurance that help is there if they need it. The NHS can also use technology to monitor the health of residents in the ‘smart homes’.

The developments across the country range from less than 1,000 to 15,000 homes, (approximately 170,000 residents in total) and sites vary in terms of land values, socio-economic profiles, population demographics and health needs.

It’s rare for the NHS to get involved in the built environment and the fact they are, shows just how important it is that homes and neighbourhoods promote healthy lifestyles. More consideration of urban designs, new technology and wellbeing during the planning stages can help achieve this. We’re constantly crying out for new homes, so the news of over 70,000 new builds is welcome, and if they help get us healthier and fitter as a country, then it’s a win-win situation. The summer is almost over and before we know it, we’ll be back on our January diets, wishing we had these incentives to help us on our way.

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.


25th August Journal Column

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


When you think of social media, I doubt construction is at the forefront of your mind, but then again when you think about tech-driven industries, construction was never one of them and just look at us now!

Whether we like it or not, technology is the world we live in now and it is time for the industry to move into the world of social media, it’s what keeps our world connected. I’m sorry to say it, but if you’re company isn’t on social media yet, you’re falling behind.

Social media allows you to network with your audience and other companies in the industry. You can also see what your competition is up to and how their audience interaction is doing. SME’s will also benefit massively from recommendations, whether that be a professional review or just a mention of your name.
Early analysis of the survey by Competitive Advantage Consultancy has found 90% of industry professionals are active on social media and that 43% use social networks for sourcing construction product information and ideas.

This year, early analysis of initial findings shows that 78% of respondents use LinkedIn, and the majority (91%) use it for work, a marked increase of 42% when compared to 2015. Over 370,000 LinkedIn members are engineers, with construction coming in second as the most represented industry on the platform. Facebook has also seen an increase with 27% of Facebook users now using it in a work capacity.

Most companies now have Facebook and Twitter as a means of promoting themselves (we like the odd tweet now and again), with LinkedIn being used mainly for recruitment. It’s also worth setting up Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube accounts, to push photo, video and ‘behind the scenes’ style content, especially if you’re wanting to target the younger generation.

The only thing with social media, is that it’s hard to control. You can’t entirely manage what employees are posting on personal platforms and you can’t stop external sources making negative comments. It’s especially difficult on a platform like Snapchat where videos only appear for a short time before disappearing forever. We saw this earlier this month, where footage of Apple Park, one of the world’s more secretive construction projects, Apple’s new headquarters, was leaked on Snapchat.

I understand companies, especially those as big as Apple, like to do the ‘big reveal’ at the end of the project, but considering the skills gap and need for a younger generation, I don’t think it would hurt to do ‘sneak peeks’ of sites. You often see sites hidden behind giant hoardings and you see nothing until you see the finished results, but why not show off what’s behind them and the work that’s gone on to get us there. It’s likely to increase interest and get people talking, and it’s the perfect way to target the younger generation and get them interested in the work we do – because some of it is very impressive, if I do say so myself!

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.

18th August Journal Column

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


I have voiced my opinion numerous times on the need for more opportunities for young people and for better training standards for those beginning their career in construction. The whole industry must attract more people and bring in more apprentices to help address the skills shortage.

 Earlier this year, another North East company, MGL Group joined some of the top UK construction companies by becoming a member of the 5% Club – a scheme promoting the employment of apprentices in the industry.  Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall and Laing O’Rourke have already committed to apprentices making up to and beyond 5% of their total workforce.  

The 5% Club is focused on creating the drive behind the recruitment of apprentices and graduates into the workforce. It was founded as a means of investing in the next generation of skills – something the industry needs to do consistently to reduce the chance of future skills shortages. The aim of the campaign is to tackle both the chronic skills shortage and youth unemployment in Britain and help the country remain at the forefront of innovation.  Members are asked to make a public declaration to support the achievement of 5% of their overall UK headcount being on a formalised apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate programme and achieve this within five years. It also asks members to publicly report their progress in their Annual Report.

 Earlier this year, the MGL Group also launched MGL Group Training Services, a company committed to providing construction related training. It’s this type of commitment we need to help boost youth employment and end the skills shortage and I’m proud that it’s come from the North East.

 It’s so positive to see so many companies pledging their commitment to apprentices. For such a long time, apprenticeships carried a very unjust stigma as an easy alternative to the academic route.  In fact, an apprenticeship is a structured programme of training and development, approved by government. At level two, an apprenticeship is worth five GCSEs and at level three it’s worth two A Levels. There are also Degree Apprenticeships Programmes, with Northumbria University set to start three this September. The industry now has the skills and resources to train and educate those who have taken the apprenticeship route and this can be seen at all levels across the industry.

 Apprenticeships give young people hands-on experience and the opportunity to gain qualifications whilst learning skills and gaining industry knowledge. With GCSE results day happening next week (24 August) now is the perfect time to show young people that we are investing in them. They are the future labour market. They will dictate how successful we are. Therefore, the better opportunities we create for them now, the better the future will be for them and us.

 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.

11th August Journal Column

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

For a long time, the construction industry was one of the least automated around, but thanks to the likes of Building Information Modelling (BIM), virtual and augmented reality and new technology, the industry is making its mark on the digital world.

Newcastle based Space Group have been working with The University of Stirling to launch a new app to help improve workplaces, public buildings and homes for people living with dementia.
The Intelligence, Research, Iterative, Design Interface System (IRIDIS) app will be free to download and will address physical aspects of design which impact upon older people’s quality of life and their ability to live independently, such as lighting, colour contrast and textures to aid day-to-day living, reinforcing memory and personal identity. It will have the ability to make recommendations on property design and refurbishment. It has links to the BIM provider bimstore, allowing designers to search and download BIM objects from manufacturers that are specifically designed and approved to meet dementia care design standards.
Those living with dementia, family members, healthcare or industry professionals, or anyone using the app, will be asked to take photographs and answer questions about their surroundings. Within approx. 20 minutes the app can assess the suitability of a two-bedroom home for an older person. Suggested improvements could be anything from changing a light bulb to reconfiguring a whole bathroom.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, with the number expected to increase to one million by 2025. With the industry responsible for building homes, workplaces and public buildings, that’s one million people we need to take into consideration in the next 8 years. Care provision will need to keep pace with this increase so those living with dementia can continue to live with as much independence as possible, whether that be in new accommodation designed entirely for their needs or existing buildings that have been altered to cater for them.

Dementia is one of the main causes of disability later in life, ahead of cancer, and in the UK we shockingly spend less on dementia care than on other major medical conditions. The app means that, no matter how little your knowledge or awareness of dementia, you can still be confident that you are providing safe environments for people to live in.

As with anything, you only get out of the process what you put in and those that have made the effort to bring the industry into the digital age, are those that will benefit in the long-term. The University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) has dedicated the last 25 years to collating research and working on the app – that’s a lot of time, effort and hard work, so I have my fingers crossed that it all pays off, for their sake and the millions of people that could benefit from it.

The app will be available to download from Thursday 21 September, on International Alzheimer’s Day.

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.

4th August Journal Column

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. Saving the planet is something we’re all keen to do, everybody wants to be seen as ‘green’, anything from recycling to washing at low temperatures will make a difference. But one of the biggest differences that can be made lies within our industry, in house-building.

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 pretty much the norm, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which may be unconventional methods but they’re the methods that are making a difference.

We’re definitely making headway, but with the Governments ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a national basis by at least 80% by 2050 and 34% by 2020 looming over our heads, the pressure is still on. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive also requires all new buildings to be “nearly zero energy” by December 2020 (which is quickly catching up to us).

One way to ensure all new buildings are ‘nearly zero energy’ is to look at ‘Green Buildings’. These buildings are designed to be environmentally-friendly, as well as resource efficient, reducing unnecessary waste of energy, gas and water.  For a while, Green Building was once the new trend in the industry, but it is now an essential part of protecting our environment, and something that all future builds need to take into consideration.

There are five key areas the industry should consider, that, with the smallest changes, could make the biggest difference:

– Materials – It’s important to plan which type of materials will be utilised, but there is now an increased focus on implementing materials which are sustainable and energy efficient, rather than cost effective in order to provide long-term benefits and lower carbon levels.

– Recycling – Recycling materials such as aluminium within builds, will effectively reduce the level of waste products which are currently sent to landfill.

– Insulation and Solar – Ensure builds incorporate cavity wall insulation and double glazing to ensure heat does not escape. Installing solar panelling systems in both traditional and modern properties will capture as much natural energy as possible and reduce CO2 emissions.

– Water – Think of ways to best use and harvest rainwater, which can be used again for gardening or toilet flushing.

– Transport – To reduce transportation CO2 emissions, source materials locally. If transporting resources is necessary, using energy efficient vehicles will help lower emissions.

All buildings need light, heat and water, it’s about looking at different ways to achieve this that are as efficient as possible. Transport is pretty much a necessity in our industry, but there are still more economical ways of doing it. That 2020 target is fast approaching, and in three years I would love to be able to say our industry played a huge part in helping us get 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.