24th November Journal Column


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

Earlier this week, chancellor Philip Hammond made his first Autumn budget since abolishing the Spring statement and within it was plenty of positive news for the industry.

House-building and the industry was front and centre of the statement, with many announcements setting out new funding for housebuilding, training and transport, amongst other things. One of the biggest announcements was the £15.3bn new financial support for house building over the next five years, this would take the total to at least £44 billion. By the mid-2020s, the aim is to have 300,000 homes being built every year, the highest level of house-building since the 1970s.

What I do like to see, is exactly where the money is going, and the budget did not disappoint. The money will be split between; new money for the Home Builders Fund to get SMEs building again, £2.7bn will double the Housing Infrastructure Fund, £630m small sites fund to unstick the delivery of 40,000 homes, among other things. That sounds like a lot of hard work over the next few years, but luckily Hammond has appointed money to training the workforce to build these new homes. An additional £34m will go towards developing skills in bricklaying and plastering across the country.

With the industry going ‘digital’, we’ve got new technology, apps and robots that can do the job for us, with this in mind, Hammond has assigned a further £30m towards digital courses using artificial intelligence. The funding is provided in advance of launching a National Retraining Scheme that will help people get new skills. It will be overseen by the government, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) who will all decide on other areas where new skills and training courses are needed.

The builders might be at the forefront of the announcement, but the buyers haven’t been forgotten, first-time buyers no longer have to pay stamp duty land tax (SDLT) on homes under £300,000. This will save £1,660‎ on the average first-time buyer property, with 80% of first-time buyers paying no stamp duty. This will hopefully get more young people on the property ladder, which is what we’re going to need to fill the new houses we’re building.

And the good news doesn’t stop there, the National Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage will increase from April 2018, with over 2 million people expected to benefit. This news can only help get more people into work and here’s hoping they choose our industry, by the looks of things, we’re in for an eventful but productive couple of years.

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

17th November Journal Column


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 wearable technology is one that has the potential to improve safety and increase productivity in the industry.

Wearable technology is defined as any accessory or piece of clothing incorporating electronic and computer technology. It is already used within other industries, think Virtual Reality headsets, Fitbit or an Apple Watch, so why not in construction?

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. As the potential of technology improves, one area that we must focus on is improving safety, which can be done by embedding technology into our apparel and personal protective equipment.

Highways engineers at Amey Plc have been trialling wearable technology that could reduce risks to drivers and lone workers. Technology included; a collar drowsiness detector and ear clip that measured changes in blood flow, signs of attention loss and fatigue. A wrist-worn band monitored vital signs and environmental factors. This alerted employees to signs of heat stress and can provide other information, such as a sudden change in posture indicating a trip or fall, and the wearer’s exertion level, to ensure they are operating safely – all factors that could be extremely dangerous if not picked up on. They also trialled a location badge, when activated by the wearer, sends an instant alert allowing help to be dispatched far more quickly and accurately in the event of a threat or injury, particularly good for workers working on large sites or long, busy roads

Across the industry, wearables are being equipped with biometrics and environmental sensors, GPS and location trackers, Wi-Fi, voltage detectors and other sensors to monitor workers’ movements, repetitive motions, posture and slips and falls. The ability to know your body is struggling before it’s too late and to raise an alarm at the touch of a button has the potential to change the industry going forward, decreasing the number of injuries and deaths, making preventable accidents a thing of the past.

Technology such as trackers or movement monitors can be used to track workers movements and increase productivity as well as safety, you might realise workers are spending a lot of time walking back and forth to get tools or materials and you can use that data to better lay out the site to reduce inefficiencies. This poses the issue of privacy, will workers be happy with their boss monitoring their every move, even if it keeps them safe? Personally, I think it’s worth it, I’d be willing to trial anything if it means we’ll see a decrease in accidents, injuries and fatalities.

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.

10th November Journal Column



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

Last month, more than 50 house-building companies committed to upping their game in training and recruitment.

The Skills Pledge is the latest scheme to come out of the Home Building Skills Partnership (HBSP). The HBSP is a body that was set up to tackle the industry’s skills shortage. It will focus on attracting new recruits into the industry, and on providing focussed training to develop the qualified workforce needed to build high quality new homes.

In total, more than 50 members of the Home Builders Federation (HBF) have signed up, including all its larger members and many medium and small businesses. The number of companies already committed are responsible for over half of the homes build in England.

The Skills Pledge covers five key areas: collaborate and share, working with the industry to improve recruitment and skills development; train to a standard, ensuring that the workforce is trained and qualified to industry standard; engage and support, both recruits and sub-contractors; champion diversity and inclusion and promote careers.

For the industry to build the high-quality homes that we desperately need, we need to commit to recruiting and training the right people. We need to focus our attention away from fear of skills shortage and towards training and apprenticeships if we want the industry to grow in the long term.

I have voiced my opinion numerous times on the need for more opportunities for young people and for better training standards, so it’s really encouraging to see schemes and initiatives dedicated to just that.

The recently announced 5% Club is focussed 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, especially with the Farmer Review pointing out that 700,000 new workers will be needed in five years to replace those retiring.

Some of the industry’s biggest companies have already signed the Skills Pledge and I’d love to see many more across the North East getting on board and working to make the skills gap a thing of the past.

The Skills Pledge and the 5% Club both focus on driving recruitment and training in the industry, it shows that we’re serious about improving how we train new recruits. It’s too often said that something needs to be done, and I’m glad that we’re not just talking the talk, we’re finally walking the walk.

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.

3rd November Journal Column

By Alison Nicholl, Associate Director, Constructing Excellence – ‎BRE

Earlier this year, BRE launched The Biophilic Office project – an office refurbishment project that will provide evidence that biophilic design will be beneficial to the health, wellbeing and productivity of office workers.

Biophilic Design is an innovative way of designing the places where we live, work, and learn. It’s all about bringing nature inside and when applied it improves many of the spaces that are lived and worked in, with numerous benefits to health and wellbeing.

We spend 90% of our lives in buildings which means our health and wellbeing is influenced significantly by the built environment. Incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment have been proved to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self-reported rates of well-being.

BRE have partnered with designer Oliver Heath, who will lead on the design element of the refurbished building. The idea is that you take a tired and ageing office building and refurbish it according to biophilic design principles, such as natural lighting, ventilation and natural landscape features.

A number of core partners are involved to bring their industry expertise into the projects, each of the partners will be using the office and testing its facilities. They will carry out 6 months pre and post refurbishment, evaluating the office in terms of daylight, lighting, indoor air quality, thermal and humidity comfort. They will also undergo a confidential health evaluation and have wearable technology to monitor health metrics.

By creating a positive, safe and healthy environment for employees, you can increase morale, improve your employees’ work-life balance and, in turn, positively impact your business. In any industry, the desire is to have a healthy, productive workforce. The obvious benefit of having a healthy workforce is that healthier employees are absent less. In Great Britain, more than 130 million days are lost to sickness absence each year, which is certain to have a knock-on effect on productivity. Imagine if you could prevent that by making a few small changes to your work place?

Over the years, there have been a number of studies to back up the claims that biophilic design really does effect working life. Productivity in offices can be increased by 8%, in the hospitality industry guests will be willing to pay 23% more for a room with a view of biophilic elements and in education, rates or learning, tests results and concentration has been known to increase.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the project and how everyone reacts, it won’t surprise me if all industries jump at the chance to get on board. Increased productivity, health, learning and sales, with the added bonus of having something nice to look at whilst at work certainly sounds good to me, it really is a win-win situation.

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.

27th October Journal Column


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

It’s been one year since Mark Farmer’s report ‘Modernise or Die’ was released. Farmer tackled the report with no holds barred and it was intended to shock the industry and government, giving an open and honest review of where the industry was at and although it was hard to hear, it was exactly what was needed.

The report looked at the constraints that limit housebuilding and infrastructure development. He identified ten symptoms that have contributed to the downfall of the industry over the years including; low productivity; a dysfunctional training, funding and delivery model; workforce size and demographics and a lack of collaboration.

He called for a reform to address the skills crisis, pointing out that 700,000 new workers will be needed in five years to replace those retiring. The report also mentioned the lack of training in construction and now one year on, ‘T-Levels’ – new technical qualifications, have just been announced. The Post-16 Skills Plan wants each student to get three months of work experience, to ensure young people have hands-on experience in the industry and employers have better access to skilled workers – definitely a move in the right direction. The Post-16 Skills Plan and the implementation of T-levels provides a real opportunity to ensure all young people leaving Further Education have the same base level of skills, experience and knowledge.

Since the report was published, a lot has changed in emerging housing policy development that has increased recognition of the role of skills and construction modernisation. The housing white paper, highlighted two main facts that could be to blame for the state of the housing market –there aren’t enough local authorities planning for the homes needed and house building is simply too slow. The government seem determined to build a stronger, fairer Britain, breaking down barriers to progress by making the big, difficult decisions that are right for Britain in the long term. Sadiq Khan’s housing strategy also recognised that in order to meet the demand for new homes (London needs 50,000 new homes every year for the next 25 years) we require a more diverse and dynamic housebuilding industry. 

Farmer succeeded in shocking the industry into making a change, we’ve recognised what needs to be done and I personally think we’ve come a long way in just the past year but there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of us, as businesses and as an industry as a whole. As Farmer said: “If we are to move to a different place, to where we need to be, we must accept that there will be winners and losers, not everyone will be successful. That is what the Modernise or Die challenge is all about.”

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.

20th October Journal Column

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


Last week (10 October), the world and the industry celebrated World Mental Health Day, this year, focussing on mental health in the workplace. The day provides the opportunity for everyone to talk about and recognise mental health issues.

Research suggests that those working in our industry could be 10 times more likely to die by suicide than from on-site accidents – quite a scary statistic when you think about how dangerous our industry can be. And if that wasn’t shocking enough, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that the risk of suicide among low-skilled labourers and workers in the industry, is 3.7 times higher than the male national average. Given how at-risk industry workers are, I think we could all be doing more to raise awareness and ensuring workers get the support they need.

Stress, depression or anxiety accounts for a fifth of all work-related illness, and that’s just the ones that have been reported, I imagine many go unreported as people don’t want this detailed on their employment records for fear it could impact their future careers. This is one of the bigger factors that need to change, we need to be talking about stress and depression, it’s much more common than we all think, and there’s no shame in that. By talking about it and being proactive, we hope to reduce the number of people living with mental health problems in the future.

We are holding a ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ event on 1 November at Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel, in partnership with Mates in Mind, the Lighthouse Construction Charity, Be. The Centre for Wellbeing and Randstad to raise awareness around mental health in the industry and reduce the stigma and barriers to workers getting the support that they need. We’ll have guest speakers from all partners as well as Northumbria Police, discussing what has worked for their organisations and what employers can be doing to help their workforce.                

We need to make sure we’re filtering the importance of talking about mental health through the supply chain, to the smaller companies that are often harder to reach. Commitment needs to come from the top, of the industry or just of the company, they are the people with the power to make things happen, to create policies, procedures and provide support. I definitely think it’s worthwhile hosting events aimed specifically at mental health, what it is and what we can do about it, we’ve got to get people talking in order to see a change.

Whether you’re experiencing problems or want advice, please don’t be afraid to seek help, there’s so many programmes out there to help at the minute. Call the Construction Industry Helpline on 0345 605 1956 or get practical online advice and training for your workforce at www.matesinmind.org.

For more information on the Breaking Down the Walls event, or to register, please contact Amy at amy@cene.org.uk or call 0191 500 7880

13th October Journal Column

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

A report on the disability employment gap found that as of last year, only 49% of disabled people were in work. That means there’s still more than half of disabled people who could be out there looking for work, with the ideal skills for the industry, Given the skills shortage in the industry, I think we’d be silly to ignore this.

The definition of disability is very broad. Under the Equality Act 2010, you are disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on your ability to carry out normal daily activities.

The industry needs a diverse workforce; people who think outside of the box and have different skills sets. For example, somebody with a hearing impairment might have heightened sensory awareness and spot something others completely miss, and in this industry, it pays to have an eye for detail. People on the autistic spectrum often think differently to others and have great attention to detail which can often speed up a problem solving or decision-making process.

In the industry, 199,802 people out of a total 2,139,068 have a disability, that’s 9.3% of the workforce (Labour Force Survey, April to June 2017), which might not seem a lot, but compared to other industries, it’s pretty good. Although there’s still room for improvement in terms of recruitment, the evidence suggests that as an industry we are good at supporting those who become disabled during their working lives. We work in an industry which has its hazards and past ways of working, and some current ones, can result in ill health or injury which have a significant impact on people. It’s therefore important that they are supported through readjustments, ensuring they have everything they need to carry out the same or an equivalent job.


You are not obliged to disclose a disability to your employer but if you do, you are protected under the Equality Act 2010, meaning it is unlawful for employers to treat you less favourably for a reason connected to the disability. If you choose not to disclose a disability, your employer will not have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure you can carry out your work.

There are some fantastic examples of ways organisations support the inclusion agenda and we need to ensure the built environment is inclusive. For example, Network Rail have the Built Environment Accessibility Panel (BEAP) – a board of elderly people, access experts and those with disabilities who work with project teams to ensure the resultant scheme is inclusive to all. The BEAP are available to any team renovating or designing new stations to ensure the station is accessible, something every major company or project could benefit from. 


The problem, as always, seems to lie in the misconception of the industry rather than the industry’s attitude towards diversity. We’ve always struggled with people having the wrong image of construction, we need to sell ourselves to those with disabilities and show them what we can offer.

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.


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.