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.