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.