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

A recent Constructing Excellence survey, Unlocking Productivity, confirms that a majority of people in the construction industry believe productivity to be only 60 per cent of what it should be. A couple of weeks ago I talked about UK productivity in this column and how, although we’re still struggling with it, there is plenty being done to improve it. I know that we are capable of much more, however, culture and behaviours often interfere.
The majority of those who responded to the survey said they wanted more work collaborations with a need to develop culture and behaviour. Based on results from another industry project, a radical approach has now been proposed to do just that.

Teams from across the supply chain discussed improvement concepts, and although they didn’t come up with a ‘big idea’, they suggested a number of micro-ideas something I believe could actually work.

Over 200 organisations, from small to large, took part in workshops part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The workshops were to increase knowledge of industry opportunities such as; bid preparation, BIM implementation and better safety and health – all areas I think we should all be clued up in.
Micro-ideas only became apparent as the programme progressed, but they’ve always been there, what’s different this time is finding them in depth and recognising their accumulated value.

Collaborative working helps you build and benefit from partnerships by sharing resources, as well as improving opportunities.
By collaborating in teams, organisations in the supply chain significantly help one another, for example, sharing information in a different sequence can be very beneficial.

Collaborative working aims to reduce barriers between those in the construction or project team, improves communications, reduces conflict and as a result improves outcomes – which is what we all want!

Micro-ideas tend to come from brief discussions between organisations about what they do, which leads to another organisation suggesting different, more efficient, methods, technology or equipment.

For most people, once explained, micro-ideas are no-brainers really. Management comments commonly include “why has that not already been done?” Which is why it’s a good idea to have your say and speak out- you never know, one of your ideas may improve the speed, cost or outcome of a project.

Micro-ideas are low risk; improvements are small, and therefore quickly implemented, and they can easily be reversed if problems occur – they provide the best of both worlds in my opinion. The effort is minimal, maybe a conversation here or there, but there is potential for maximum output in terms of improving productivity and changing culture and behaviour, it all looks very encouraging to me.

26th February Journal Column

By Siobhan McMahon-Walsh, National Chair of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

For women, proving their worth in a male dominated industry has been a long and gruelling task, but we’re now finally at a place where women are equal to men and stereotypes are long gone… or so I thought!

Where we should be, is at a place where women are offered the same opportunities as men, and heads don’t turn when a women is recruited into a senior role. So why was news of a female chair for a construction company classed as headline news last week? People are promoted/hired every day, why must they comment on gender and report it as something out of the ordinary?

Although we have come a long way in terms of recruiting and stereotyping, it’s clear there is still a lot of work to be done.

Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the construction workforce grew by 1.5 per cent between Q3 and Q4 of 2015. Whilst the increase is good news for the industry as a whole, it’s disappointing to see that women only make up 11.2 per cent of these workers.

While it might feel like we are doing a lot to increase women in construction, there have been numerous campaigns to encourage women into the industry and a lot of work has been carried out regarding recruiting, it’s clearly still not enough.

The proportion of women in construction has fallen for three consecutive quarters and is even lower than it was in 1997, so I can’t help but feel that we’re going backwards rather than forwards!

It’s amazing to see that we aren’t going down without a fight. The National Careers Service in the North East have launched a campaign to challenge gender stereotypes in the work place, and with organisations like the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) working so hard, there’s no reason why we can’t turn things around.

Although I agree that we need to up our game in terms of encouraging more women into the industry, I have to say that, especially in the North East, I’ve personally found that attitudes towards women in construction have changed massively and are more positive than ever before. In the 20+ years that I’ve been in construction a lot has changed, equality may not be quite up to the desired level, but they are certainly a lot better than they used to be!

With NAWIC North East celebrating their 4th successful year of encouraging individuals to pursue, establish and sustain successful careers, International Women’s Day coming up on 8th March and the Women in Construction Awards on 23rd March showcasing women across the industry at every level, there are many opportunities to celebrate and raise awareness of women in construction.

There are people, me included, willing to put the work in to change statistics and challenge gender stereotypes, we’ve progressed so much over the last few years and finally brought construction into the 21st century, there’s no reason we can’t keep on going!

19th February Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve always been a big supporter of collaborative working. I understand why some people want to achieve success on their own, but I also don’t see anything wrong with getting a little help along the way. If there’s someone out there to help you, meaning you’ll reach that end goal a little quicker, then why not?

The British Standard (BS) 11000 standard gives you the knowhow to get the most from collaborative working. It helps you build and benefit from partnerships by sharing resources, costs and contacts, as well as improving opportunities.

BS 11000 Collaborative Business Relationships provides an eight stage approach to help organisations work with other organisations more effectively, regardless of size and sector.

The approach involves stages such as awareness, understanding business objectives, an internal assessment to evaluate how your organisation is best positioned to collaborate, finding the right partnership, working out how to reach a mutual and maximum benefit before recognising internal and external changes before disengagement.

The framework enables organisations to apply good practice principles to their own way of working and has wide applications for public, private and not-for-profit organisations on how to manage valuable business relationships within the supply chain.

For those organisations with well-established processes, the framework provides a common language that can help engagement, whilst for those starting out it creates a road map for the journey.  There are simply no limitations to which organisations can benefit from BS 11000.

BSI was the first certification body to be recognised by the Institute of Collaborative Working’s (ICW) BS 11000 Certification Validation scheme. Following on from the success of BS 11000, the standard has now been developed into a new international standard – ISO 11000.

Whilst the International standard principally addresses the management system of an organisation, it also recognises that effective collaboration requires two or more organisations to work together.

ISO 11000 will incorporate the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) management structure whilst still using the eight stage model of BS 11000, which is currently under public consultation until 7 March 2016.

The essence of collaborative working is to reduce barriers between those in the construction or project team, thereby improving communications, reducing conflicts and, therefore, improving outcomes.

Last year the winner of the Constructing Excellence in the North East ‘Project of the Year’ award came from a collaborative working project and it was an outstanding example of how partnership collaboration can achieve an end goal.

Branching out to international standard only opens more doors and offers more opportunities to businesses of all sizes in all sectors. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the public consultation is… I’ll definitely be checking back in with this come March.

12th February Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Summer might seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been seven months since the chancellor first announced that tackling low productivity was to be one of the Government’s main priorities in the coming year.

Following the announcement, the Treasury was quick to release the ‘productivity plan’ and the chancellor reiterated his big plans for productivity in November’s Autumn Statement. Talking about it is all well and good but we need to see actions, not just hear words.

Boosting productivity across the whole economy is still one of the government’s biggest targets, but since last summer we haven’t seen a lot of evidence to show that they are trying to find solutions to the problem.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that productivity has improved very little in the last 20 years. Productivity, measured by construction output per worker and construction output per hour, shows that in the past 20 years output per worker has only increased by 1.4 per cent and output per hour only slightly more at 3.3 per cent – still not very impressive statistics, but is it all about numbers?

In the same time period, overall industry output has risen 21 per cent and the number of construction jobs is up 17.1 per cent. So progress is happening, it’s just at a very slow pace.

These statistics don’t take into account improvements the industry has made in safety standards and the quality of work it is producing. The way productivity is measured does not adjust for quality or standards.

For an outsider looking into the industry and focussing on the statistics, productivity may appear low, and it certainly is compared to other industries, but is it simply down to the way in which work is carried out – making it difficult for the industry to set targets and see any improvement?
Although workforce has increased recently, we’re still around 100,000 jobs shy of the pre-recession peak. So once again, the skills shortage is causing us problems. Can we really expect companies to improve productivity when they don’t have the workforce and are struggling to recruit?

The cyclical nature of the industry makes it difficult for firms to improve their efficiency and productivity. Offsite manufacturing has been suggested as a way to solve this problem, but manufacturing would not be reflected in construction output statistics, so it would have no effect on our productivity.

I wouldn’t necessarily say we have a productivity problem, the fact we are still years behind other industries in terms of technology just means we have more opportunities to take.

Yes, we’ve come on leaps and bounds in terms of technology and training, but we still have a long way to go – improvements in both areas will improve productivity.

I have every faith that businesses can pull together and boost the industry’s productivity, it might sound like a tough challenge, but we’ve overcome much more!

5th February Journal Column

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

You know the saying, waste not, want not? Well following the results of a freedom of information request, it couldn’t be more fitting.

New research has shown that councils are wasting thousands of pounds by failing to use government mandated procurement standards.

The prequalification questions are there to ensure projects can be completed, so that suppliers have everything at hand and want for nothing.

The Publicly Available Specification (PAS) provides a set of questions to be asked by buyers of potential suppliers to enable prequalification for construction projects.

New research from the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) found that 27 per cent of local authorities across the country failed to use the PAS 91 standards.

PAS 91 was launched in October 2010, aiming to bring together the various question sets used between buyers – making it easier for the supplier to complete.

Using the prequalification questions makes sure the right resources are available, wasting this opportunity could result in wanting tools/supplies that aren’t actually available to you.

Councils should take the results from the research as a huge warning that they are potentially wasting thousands of pounds in procurement costs by failing to meet these standards.

The results of the survey also revealed that 18 per cent of councils admitted to not knowing if they even used the government mandated template.

Failing to use these standardised procurement methods causes finance related issues, as using other procurement standards can increase costs.

It can also have a significant impact on small construction firms and their ability to gain local authority contracts.

It’s crucial the smaller firms have as good of a chance as any when bidding for public sector contracts and using PAS 91 can help achieve this. By not using these types of standardised procurement tools, it makes it harder to apply, which favours the bigger firms who have the time, money and resources to do the extensive paperwork required.

Less than one third, (31 per cent) of local authorities said they used PAS 91 and it’s a shame to see that the figure is so low. For some time now we’ve been asking the government for a lot of things whether it be new homes or increases in apprenticeships, and when they finally give us something to help the industry nobody takes advantage of it.

Now, I know it’s been 6 years since the launch, and PAS 91 is now a little out-dated. I’m sure an update would be considered if it’s likely to increase the number of local authorities using it, so let the government know; after all shy bairns get nowt!

29th January Journal Column

By James Ritchie Architect and RIBA Specialist Practice Consultant

If you are about to alter, extend or demolish a building or structure, or are thinking of putting up a new one, then you probably want it all to go smoothly.

As we all know, a project only goes well if it has been carefully planned, is well managed and monitored to see how it is progressing.

This applies to all aspects of a project not just the finance and programming. Success can be measured by how well project risks are identified, managed or eliminated. Time, cost and quality are becoming ever more important drivers for the success of construction projects, so the identification of risks from finance and planning permission to programming and health and safety are becoming more critical. A client that ignores consideration of such risks does so at their own peril.

The new Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 go quite some way to helping clients deal with health and safety risk management as the commercial client duties are set out much clearer. The aim of the Regulations is to ensure clients give clear project leadership and consider health and safety risks as essential and integral parts of the planning and management of projects -not just ‘something the contractor has to deal with’.

There are great advantages for clients if they and everyone involved in the project, comply with the new CDM Regulations, such as improved planning and management ensuring the project is completed on time, within budget and to the required standards.

Clients should still be able to rely on those they appoint, but it must be recognised that clients hold the power to influence and control those they engage with or appoint on a project and therefore bear the ultimate responsibility for achieving a safe and healthy project. The success of the project is in their hands as much as those they appoint to design and construct the building.

For the management of health and safety risks, the age old adage that ‘perfect planning prevents poor performance’ has never been better suited. Failure to adequately manage these risks will at best, result in delays, extra costs on the project and possibly a Fee For Intervention bill from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and, at worst, leave the client in court facing the new Sentencing Guidelines for health and safety prosecutions.

If you aren’t sure what the financial implications are of the new Sentencing Guidelines, which come into force on 1 February this year, then I strongly advise you to speak to your legal advisers, and pronto at that!

CENE are running a seminar looking at the responsibilities of clients under CDM2015 regulations on 3 February 2016. To register for this event, please contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or leanne@cene.org.uk

 

22nd January Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The topic of skills shortage has always been something that has concerned me. I’m all for the industry growing in all sectors, so to hear that we’re still threatened by skills shortage is disappointing.

Ministers announced plans last year to build up to 275,000 affordable homes by 2020, and now we’re another year closer, but we’re no closer in terms of the improvement in skills and newly trained workers that are desperately needed.

It’s not just the housing sector that is suffering; according to a new government backed report claiming that we have a gap of 100,000 workers and 250,000 existing workers needing retaining over the next five years, it seems we have our work cut out.

Major infrastructure projects planned for this year are threatened by the skills shortage, meaning vital works on roads, rail and energy is likely to be affected – which is not what we want to hear!

There’s demand for over 250,000 construction workers as well as 150,000 engineering construction workers, which may sound like a lot, but considering that’s nationwide and there are 103,000 people out of work in the North East alone, I’m pretty sure our region could easily fill some of those jobs on our own.

But of course it’s not just about finding people to fill the jobs; it’s about finding the right people with the right skills. We should 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.

Thankfully for us, a new study has revealed that due to the skills shortage, the sector’s wage inflation has increased, which is sure to help with the recruitment and training drive.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) UK construction market survey revealed that wages rose by an average of six per cent in 2015, which is three times higher than the national average.

While 61 per cent of construction professionals in the North East have reported wage rises, 46 per cent have also reported labour shortages. So while wage rises might be good news for employees, it’s not so good for the industry as the skills shortage is still jeopardising planned projects for the housing and infrastructure sectors.

Two-thirds of respondents of the RICS survey cited labour shortages as the biggest barrier to growth, and, as far as I can see, they’re the only barrier we’re facing at the minute. It’s as simple as we have the work, which we have desperately been crying out for, and not enough skilled workers to do it.

So I urge you all to do what you can to help; encourage new recruits, participate in apprenticeship schemes, whatever it takes. I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people. I believe that the youth of today hold the future of our industry in their hands, so why wouldn’t we encourage them into the industry and give them the training they need? They want jobs, and we need newly skilled recruits, it’s a win-win situation for all.

15th January Journal Column

By Tim Bailey, founding partner of xsite architecture and board member of Constructing Excellence in the North East

History shows us that shifts in the economy and society can impact on what we build and how we build it. However, as nobody can predict the exact shape of things to come, those working in the built environment sector must use their skill to interpret these complex changes and to understand what people really need and want.

Naturally everyone should do their best to ensure a project meets both the client’s needs and stacks up commercially, which is why I believe collaboration is the only way to achieve construction quality viably in a cost-constrained world – especially in public projects where value for money is critical.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work (PoW) was first introduced over 50 years ago, with a recent shake up in 2013 introducing new work stages, terminology and a new stage referencing system.

The framework helps explain to clients briefing, design, construction and post-occupancy processes and is a springboard for tools and supplementary core documents, including services appointments, scope of services and project protocol documents and building contract forms.

The newly launched PoW, which I recently produced for RIBA, aims to help architects find the keys to unlocking opportunities and developing the essential relationship between themselves and clients. I’m all for anything that can make processes easier and I fully believe the PoW has the potential to do so; here are eight reasons why I think it makes good business sense:

  1. If you explain the process to clients and demonstrate the eight work stages and eight task bars, you can illustrate what is to come and the scope of service you are offering
  2. You should organise your own output into the PoW stages because, for the vast majority of construction professionals, their work falls into a predictable pattern
  3. If you use the PoW to illustrate your role in each project stage, it will provide clarity on fee structure
  4. PoW illustrates programme – and the effect of delays can be clearly seen, which will support claims for additional resource or accelerated working
  5. PoW exerts control of the design processes, so designers can use it to demonstrate the value of sequential and iterative design stages
  6. It reinforces the utilisation of project strategies – work stage task lists encourage robust discipline which results in successful project delivery
  7. Use the information exchanges to force a complete and timely record of progress through the project – this is an excellent way to demonstrate the value of the design team
  8. Encourage whole process mentality using the PoW to document the journey already taken – this will help to put each day’s jobs into the context of the entire programme for the whole design team

There’s huge potential out there and the future is full of opportunity – to unlock it, the profession must adapt to clients’ needs and demonstrate added value. The PoW is just one of many ways to unlock opportunities and develop relationships with clients, and we would be silly not to take full advantage of it.

 

18th December Journal Column

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 2015 was like for our industry, I would say two things- amazing, but bloomin’ hard work!

A new year is a natural point in time where we assess how things have gone over the past 12 months and look at what we can do better in the coming year. We’re all so busy these days (which,  of course, is never a bad thing) that we forget to stop and think about the bigger picture- the saying ‘remember to pause- or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you’ has never been so relevant.

In the past 12 months, there have been more highs than lows I’m pleased to say! The industry has progressed in terms of education, employability, and new technology.

We’ve finally joined the 21st century with awareness of BIM and 3D printing being higher than ever across the industry, and it’s a good job too, with the government announcing the BIM Mandate which states that all firms tendering for Government projects must be using Level 2 BIM technology by 2016 – which somehow is almost upon us!

Throughout the year we’ve seen that BIM is high across building services, and although they are aware of BIM and the looming deadline, most firms still have a long way to go in order to meet it. Hopefully these technologies will just be a normal part of the construction process in the next few months (we don’t have much choice really) – and if a technophobe like me can say that, there’s hope for us all!

Wherever you look, there are campaigns to encourage people to consider a career in construction – a huge success this year in my opinion.

This year we’ve supported The Armed Forces Employability Pathway programme which links Army Reserves, Local Authority, Job Centre Plus and local employers to help people into work.

The Journal also launched their ‘Let’s Work Together Campaign’ and the Construction Industry Training Board have launched their Go Construct campaign, both encouraging companies to address the skills gap in the region and working towards filling the 220,000 jobs that are needed in the next few years.

The government are also encouraging people into the industry by increasing the apprentice wage by 57p – the largest increase in history. It’s good to see everyone is doing all they can to encourage more people to look at our industry as a first career choice- hopefully this will only continue as we go into 2016.

There are so many other things that I could mention, but I don’t want to keep you away from your festivities for too long! So, based on that, 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 2016.

11th December Journal Column

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

The North of the country has been a little under the weather this week, literally. On Saturday, the majority of the North East and North West were struck by Storm Desmond which caused mass floods and devastation.
Carlisle in particular has been heavily affected, which was unexpected given that £38m was spent on flood defences in the area following the floods in 2005 which led to three deaths. Here we are 10 years later and the same is happening again, making me question whether the money was actually worth spending.

More than 3,500 properties flooded, 55,000 properties were without power and a number of people were hurt as a result of the flood devastation. Earlier this week, Chancellor George Osborne announced a £50m fund, which will mean families affected will be able to claim and the money will be administered by local authorities – good move!

However, for those affected in the industry, there will be a bit of a longer wait. The current level of damage to infrastructure along with current flood defences are being assessed, and funds will be made available accordingly.
Although the government have stepped up to helping those affected by the floods, they overlooked a document earlier in the year which could have been of some use. Back in March the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the built environment published their ‘Living with water’ report which gave recommendations for developing flood resilience. Let’s hope they revisit the document which is now incredibly relevant.
A good construction project plan will allow for unforeseen weather conditions, let’s face it, in the UK it’s not exactly unforeseen, so we should always have measures in place to minimise the effects.

Rain creates slippery surfaces, both on the ground and on tools and machinery, which sounds like an accident waiting to happen. I’d suggest installing protective sheeting around scaffolding, which will protect the site from wind and rain and allow for work to continue as normal in the safest possible way.

Always ensure you have protective sheets on hand to quickly protect materials. I see machinery and tools left out on sites in the rain uncovered, and it just makes me think of the damage, which could have easily been prevented by a simple polythene sheet. The effects of frost and snow (which is pretty much inevitable in the Winter) can be prevented by using straw-filled matting and polyurethane foam – something good to remember for the next few months given that the Met Office have predicted snow between January and March- hurray!
The power of the weather can create unforeseen problems, cause delays and health and safety risks, but there are measures that can be put into place to reduce the damage caused. So, let’s all plan ahead, schedule time for consequences of weather and have a winter where we concentrate less on project disruption and more on Christmas cheer.

CENE are hosting an event looking at Climate Change and Flooding Management on January 28, for more information contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or email Leanne@cene4.org.uk.