Making the most of the Skills and Training fund

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

Earlier this week it was reported that not many contractors are aware of and therefore not applying for the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) Skills and Training Fund.

The fund was introduced back in 2016 to help small and micro employers and specialist federations with their skills and training needs. The funds, available to levy registered companies, vary in value depending on the number of PAYE employees;

•           £5,000 for up to 49 staff

•           £7,500 for up to 74 staff

•           £10,000 for up to 99 staff

Smaller contractors are missing out on this pot of money that is just sitting there waiting to be put to use. Firms employing less than 100 people can apply for up to £10,000 a year that could be used to pay for training for employees and have a huge impact on how successful a business is.

Training company, Construction Skills People (CSP), has been shouting about the fund and has since seen its clients secure over £250,000 worth of funding to be used towards training. It’s such a good initiative from the CITB, I don’t know why more people aren’t shouting about it – I certainly will be. We need to ensure everyone knows it exists and has the opportunity to benefit from what is essentially free money to help them succeed.

Thankfully, the North East is one of the better regions for applying and being successful in obtaining funding but we still need to keep encouraging more SME’s to apply. Firms such as Esh Construction and McCarrick Construction have already benefited from the fund. McCarrick used the fund to upskill one of their plumbers meaning they can offer more to clients and it saves them money each year. In the first year of the funds being made available 60 North East employers had successful Skills and Training Fund applications, totalling over £277,500 with approximately 700 beneficiaries; 17 micro businesses, 31 SMEs and 4 large employers all benefiting.

Jeremy Wright, CITB Partnerships Manager said: “The CITB Skills and Training Fund is a great opportunity for smaller North East construction employers to access funding to develop a stronger skills base. We would encourage all CITB-registered employers with up to 99 staff to visit our website and submit an application for the fund”. It couldn’t be easier to apply either – what do you have to lose?

I’m always supporting training initiatives, and this is another initiative that gets you one step closer to giving your workforce the training it needs. The good thing about the fund is that it’s not just for young people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for training young people but we need to appreciate the upskilling and reskilling needs of the existing workforce. 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

Investing in Innovation

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

Earlier this month, the Transforming Construction Network Plus launched a new round of funding for innovations in digital, offsite and eco-friendly technology.

The programme will provide up to £600,000 for small research projects, in line with the expectations of the Industrial Strategy and the Transforming Construction Challenge. The programme will support research projects focused on designing and managing buildings through digitally enabled performance management, offsite manufacturing and reducing energy demand by improving quality of build. The Transforming Construction Challenge, which is backed by £170m in research and innovation investment, matched by £250m from industry, was set up to create new construction processes and techniques. The aims of the challenge are for the industry to achieve the governments targets in the 2025 Construction Strategy – reduction in construction costs by a third, 50% improvement in trade balance and 50% reductions in speed and carbon emissions.

We’ve already made a lot of progress and with even more funding being made available for research, innovation and development projects, we’re going from strength to strength in transforming the industry. It couldn’t come at a better time either as we simply cannot deliver the infrastructure and homes that the country needs in the way that we’re operating now and unless things change, we have no hope of hitting the 2025 targets.

We’re all working towards the same goal of what the Industrial Strategy set out last year. In July 2018, the government published the Construction Sector Deal which revealed how government procurement will drive change in the design and assembly of buildings, how the skills challenges faced by the industry will be addressed. It set out what it believes to be the foundations for an ambitious partnership between the government and industry to transform the sector into one that can; build new homes in weeks or days, deliver new buildings at a third of the cost and provide affordable, energy efficient homes. I think everyone is finally on the same page when it comes to innovation and what the industry needs to do, we just need to pull together to maximise the potential for Transforming Construction in the very near future.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are hosting the 2019 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change next week (Wednesday 2nd October), where the focus will be on innovation, skills and zero-waste in design, materials and time. I must admit, it’s been quite embarrassing how much we’ve struggled with innovation in the past, so it’s promising to see how things are improving, although I’m not getting ahead of myself, there’s still a lot of work to be done – I’m certainly up to the challenge, are you?   

For more information on the North East Construction Summit, please Grace Collinson, on 0191 500 7880 or email grace@cene.org.uk.

Responsibility in Accessibility

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

There’s been a lot of focus on inclusivity and diversity in terms of the construction workforce, but when it comes to creating inclusive and accessible buildings, it’s down to the industry to make sure this happens.

Developers, designers and owners of buildings have a responsibility to ensure that the built environment is accessible to everyone. This includes:

•           Wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties

•           Pushchairs and children

•           People with sight or hearing impairments

•           Elderly people

•           People with co-ordination or respiratory problems

There is a lot to consider when designing a building; energy efficiency, materials, costs etc are all huge factors but they must also consider whether it will be comfortable for the end users. Despite a strong framework of legislation and standards, we still don’t always get it right. I don’t think the error is on purpose, it’s just a case of not everyone understanding what is required.

Construction clients are not always up to date with current legislation, often asking for the project or scheme to be Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant, when the DDA hasn’t existed for a number of years. These days, buildings and projects need to adhere to the Equality Act 2010. There’s no one size fits all approach to equality, but the Equality Act 2010 is about reasonable provision of access and means different things when applied to different situations. Therefore the finished project needs to meet the needs of the future user to be compliant.

Part M of the Buildings Regulations, Access to and Use of Buildings, sets out legal minimum requirements for works to buildings or new buildings. Whereas previous versions of the Regulations focused on the specific needs of people with disabilities, the current edition promotes an approach to inclusive design that reflects the needs of all people. It’s the absolute minimum that we should be adhering too and while many think it restricts design and imagination, I would have to disagree. As long as you’re meeting at least, the minimum standards, with a little imagination we can still go a long way.

Network Rail has a specific Built Environment Accessibility Panel, to ensure their building works, stations and amenities across the country are as inclusive as possible. The panel of experts, at least half of whom have disabilities, work as volunteers with Network Rail to assess and plan accessible places. The idea is a good one and one that I think our industry would benefit from. Everything requires a little quality control and when the end result is such an important one, I think it would be definitely worth the time and effort.

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.

Modern Methods of Construction

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

UK Construction Week, the UK’s largest built environment event, takes place next month, with one of the themes being Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

MMC is transforming the way homes and commercial properties are built. A variety of new approaches are being adopted across the industry, including timber frames; whole wall panels, which can be supplied with windows, insulation and external cladding; and volumetric or modular construction, where pods or modules that could be anything from a bathroom to half a house are supplied ready-made. MMC is a much faster method than the traditional method of bricks and mortar and is essentially taking construction processes away from the building site. As modular homes are manufactured in a factory using MMC the accuracy, quality and performance of each build can be assured ensuring that standards are maintained, reducing the risk of mistakes and waste whilst also potentially providing safer working environments.

A recent report into the family homelessness crisis estimated that there could be more than 210,000 homeless children in England due to the lack of social housing.  The statistic is shocking and incredibly sad but maybe the shock is needed to prove why we need to increase house building to meet demand. Last year, the industry built just under 150,000 new homes, nowhere near enough to get all those children into a home. While it might not be possible to increase the number of new builds by enough, there are other solutions and MMC is one of them. It’s the ideal solution to quick, cost effective and good quality housing.

UK Construction Week will display the latest advancements in MMC and how they’re improving productivity and quality whilst lowering costs. A number of full-scale MMC-built structures will be on display at the show including a modular care annex for the healthcare sector, a SIPS panel residential building, a modular bathroom pod for the high-end hotel sector, and offsite solutions for the education sector.

We’ve been using modular off-site construction methods for a few years now in the North East and we are really reaping the benefits. Modular units were installed at the Gateshead Innovation Village and the regeneration of Smith’s Dock included a high proportion of modular homes manufactured offsite. We’re also ahead of the game in terms of digital MMC – NBS recently used augmented reality in their Future Building exhibition, allowing visitors to scan buildings on a wall and explore a 360-degree model on screen.

The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model said, we must ‘modernise or die’ and digital technology is at the top of its game, with 3D printing, apps, robots and drones to name a few, helping us carry out day to day tasks. In the past, we’ve had a reputation for being slow to adapt to the digital age, but over recent years, the smart building tech industry has grown significantly with more companies accepting technology.

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.

Preparing for a No Deal Brexit

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East
Last week it was announced that the Queen had accepted the Prime Minister’s request to prorogue parliament, something which very rarely happens. For me, this just adds more uncertainty to the Brexit turmoil.
Proroguing parliament means that the current parliamentary ‘session’ ends and then a new ‘session’ begins after a short break. The Prime Minister argues that it gives his new government a chance to bring forward its own legislative agenda, but surely, it’s only going to add to the political chaos? Nobody knows what’s going on with Brexit, all we know is that regardless of the progue parliament, a ‘no deal’ Brexit is looking more likely every day.
A ‘no deal’ would mean that Britain would leave the group of nations with no trade agreements or customs and immigration operations in place at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and at Dover, the English end of the “chunnel” that runs between France and Britain – which just terrifies me for the future of the industry. Plenty of advice has been issued to help businesses prepare for such an eventuality, after all, there’s not a lot else we can do while we wait to see what happens…

  • The government has launched the new UK Conformity Assessed mark, which if approved, will replace the CE marking for certain goods. They’ve also published guidance relating to the Construction Products Regulation and how it will apply in the event of ‘no deal’.
  • The HMRC has also published advice for companies that trade with the EU, with details of important actions you need to take and changes to be aware of.
  • The European Commission has published guidance for firms on the treatment of industrial products in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This covers a range of issues including guidance for importers, the transfer of notified body certificates and accreditation, all of which are relevant to the industry.
  • The Federation of Master Builders recommends you include the following words in new written quotations and contracts: “If there are any significant changes in the price of the work or any new taxes arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union then we will tell you what those charges are when we know, and ask how you want us to go ahead.”
    If Britain does crash out of the EU and the predicted shortages happen, Parliament have nobody to blame but themselves and it’s going to be up to them to find solutions. While it’s all still up in the air, there’s not a lot we can do but prepare for the worst. My one piece of advice? Don’t let a ‘no deal’ take you by surprise.
    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.

CIOB survey looking into mental health industry workers

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

Following the recent figures from the Office of National Statistics which found that men working in construction are four times more likely to take their own life than men on average, the Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) announced a new extensive survey looking into the mental health of industry workers.

Mental health in construction is often described as the ‘silent epidemic’ but when you look at the statistics, it’s not silent at all. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), anxiety and depression have overtaken musculoskeletal issues as the most reported health problem in the industry – that might sound scary, but the positive thing is that it’s being reported!

The survey will look into the mental health of employees and the levels of stress construction employees endure. The results will then be analysed to establish which are the primary pressures on workers at different levels. The information is then likely to be used to:

  • Develop recommendations for both the construction sector and policymakers to help reduce the pressures identified;
  • Draw the above recommendations, if legislative change is required, into a policy paper to discuss with parliamentarians;
  • Gather case study material to exemplify the primary issues raised in the survey and demonstrate the impact that these issues can have on individuals;
  • Shape a detailed report outlining the findings, sharing the case studies and summarising any policy recommendations.

We work in an industry that is stressful and comes with huge pressures. That’s not to say it’s any more stressful than other professions but with construction comes the macho culture, which sadly makes people afraid to ask for help. As well as wanting the best for our workers, our industry also carries a great deal of risk and if the job isn’t done properly, accidents will happen. We all need to keep working together to change the stigma relating to mental health and get our workers talking.

Here, at Constructing Excellence, we do lots to help improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the industry. Along with our Generation4Change, our committee of young professionals who are passionate about making a difference in the sector, we are currently carrying out a mental health survey. The results of which will be discussed at the North East Construction Summit, later in the year.

I’m just glad to see that the industry is taking mental health seriously, both regionally and nationally. While there’s no one solution to solve all of the issues surrounding mental health, the data that will be gathered from the CIOB survey will identify where work is needed and suggest solutions that will work.

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.

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Worlds’ first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment, here in the North East

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

It was recently announced that Northumbria and Newcastle University had been jointly awarded £8million to create the worlds’ first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE).

Experts from both universities will develop new technologies to revolutionise how buildings are constructed and how they operate. By bringing together architects, engineers and bio-scientists the aim is that they can work towards developing sustainable materials and architectural structures which are responsive to the natural environment, grown using living engineered materials, process their own waste, reduce pollution, generate energy and support a biological environment that benefits health.

HBBE, which launched earlier this month, comprises of a micro design lab (based in Northumbria) and a macro bio-design lab (based at Newcastle) which will allow students to develop new technologies; from environmentally friendly molecules to materials. The hub also includes The OME, an experimental house where students will be able to test their research. This is what I’m most excited about, by giving students a place to implement their findings in a real-life setting the successful materials and systems will be ready to use immediately. It won’t be a case of months of hard work only to find out they don’t work when applied to real situations.

Research conducted through the HBBE is categorised by three themes:

  • Building Metabolism – which aims to develop a new generation of microbial technologies that will act as building metabolisms – processing waste and generating energy and useful products.
  • Living Construction – which will foster a new generation of bulk-engineered living materials that are intelligently synthesised and activated using microbial processes.
  • Microbial Environments – where the objective is to better understand and computationally predict the interaction between the built environment and microbes and to cultivate healthy environments.

The fund has been awarded from Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England (E3) Fund, made available through the modern Industrial Strategy. The original modern Industrial Strategy green paper stated that the government would only work with those sectors that were willing to help themselves and I think we’ve certainly shown that we are, and we’ve been rewarded for that. We’re wanting to change and move in the right direction and the fund is only going to support that. For a while now the industry has been taking responsibility in how we work and putting more effort into tackling the climate crisis. The current construction of buildings is unstainable due to its carbon footprint given that the built environment currently contributes 40% to the UK’s carbon footprint.

I’m so happy we’re looking at new building methods, new materials and technologies, all of which will have a positive impact on the environment, and I’m even happier that the latest research is happening here, in the North East.

Engineering in the North East

Guest blog by Kevin Byrne, Managing Director of Seymour Civil Engineering Contractors Ltd

Kevin Byrne, Managing Director of Seymour Civil Engineering, believes that the North East is the definitive birthplace of modern engineering and it is here that engineering has made the most impact. Not just on our region but on the world itself. We spoke to Kevin about what makes the North East of England such an important area and what we can do to ensure that heritage continues.

“The North East’s background and history in engineering is probably one of the strongest in the world. Some of the finest engineers came from the North East; including Sir William Armstrong, inventor of high-pressure hydraulic machinery who revolutionised the design of guns and George Stephenson, the ‘Father of Railroads’.

The region has a massive history of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. It was synonymous with quality shipbuilding and the steel industry, and saw the design, build and export of some of the world’s most famous bridges, the most famous being Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can see the massive input this region has had on the world’s infrastructure.

Engineering has had an undeniable effect on the North East, but most people who have never visited the North East won’t understand that.

It is a fabulous place with a terrific infrastructure that is still being improved upon. The quality of life and work/life balance in the region is fantastic. We have a beautiful countryside and it is serviced by a massive and robust infrastructure.

Seymour has recently been involved in a major engineering project in the region which aims to assist the local economy, the A19 Silverlink Roundabout. A triple decker roundabout that will aim to alleviate a lot of congestion and allow the ports to take in a lot more traffic. Seymour’s role was to install £8m highway and kerb drainage on the scheme on behalf of Sisk Lagan

The future is bright for the region. There is fabulous technology being developed in the North East and we’re now looking at developing advanced manufacturing and turning Teesport, the third largest port in the UK, into a freeport.

The North East is, as far as I’m concerned, looking at a renaissance and to avoid using the B word. I believe the region can be a beneficiary of the outcome of our exit from Europe as we will be able to compete and bring engineering and manufacturing home.

We as a civil engineering company, can see that a lot of manufacturing organisations will need infrastructure, buildings, premises and laydown areas and we see this as a market trend that we’re ready to take advantage of.

Engineering has had an impact on the economy of the region, as it has an effect on any economy around the world.

A lot of people don’t know what engineering is or even notice it until something goes wrong and it’s often overlooked as everyone takes it for granted.

I’ve worked in the North East since 1989, after moving across from Lancashire, and the one piece of engineering in the region I regularly go to is the Millennium Bridge in Gateshead which crosses the Tyne. It’s a fantastic piece of engineering which was cleverly done. It was manufactured five or six miles down the river and put into place by possibly the largest lifting barge in the world back then.

From a purely engineering point of view, that was a very prestige job. It’s iconic of the Newcastle/Gateshead connection and over the years I’ve seen Newcastle grow from being a working dock to what it is now, a centre of excellence in terms of working space, leisure and housing.

The region has had some terrific pieces of engineering, another of which would be the Angel of the North, built in Hartlepool, but I think there are also quite a few jobs which are not quite as iconic but are just as vital.

These are the sea defence jobs and sewage facilities that are often buried, and no one would even know they are there. However, without them there would be flood issues and less than attractive places to live.

So, while I am aware of those jobs – the public wouldn’t necessarily give them a second thought.

I often point out the sports fields in the region to people and they ask me why I find them fascinating. For me, it’s not the fields themselves but rather what’s under them which is absolutely terrific.

Hidden engineering is all around us and without it, things would be very different indeed.

The North East has obviously experienced somewhat of a decline over recent years which has resulted in workers re-educating themselves. The region is now a hotbed of cutting edge advanced manufacturing, technology and offshore wind farming. I honestly believe that the North East is far better than what the ratings would ever give it.

The fact that we have five top class universities with world leading programmes means we have a massive education facility for the development of people in the North East, that is second to none.

I believe post Brexit, as manufacturing comes back, the North East will develop technologies that will be exportable throughout the world and I honestly believe that, whilst there is always room for improvement, the North East is a lot more advanced than what we give ourselves credit for.

Ideally, we need to move people away from large metropolitan areas – in order to do that we need to improve transport links and we have to get the lifestyle facilities in different parts of the UK to make it desirable for commuters. That issue falls with us in the engineering sector.

The North East has always produced the best engineers in the world. We took the railways abroad, we took the canals abroad, the power stations, infrastructure, shipbuilding and bridgebuilding. We have the talent, the generations, the feedstock and the bloodline.

Let’s carry on doing what we do best.”

CAN to launch intelligent procurement campaign

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

Following a recent workshop with its committee, Construction Alliance NorthEast (CAN) is launching a campaign to promote intelligent procurement. CAN wishes to clarify its position on what intelligent procurement means and the benefits it would deliver for the region, if adopted.

CAN was established in 2016 to create more of a level playing field for regional SME contractors when tendering for work. It was formed after the recession because many SME construction companies had been badly affected by the use of single-sourced frameworks, which excluded many from tendering – either because their turnover was too low or because they were unable to demonstrate enough similar projects.

Through intelligent procurement, CAN seeks to create a common-sense approach to tendering.  Its values relate to three aspects of ‘local’:

  • local money being spent with regional companies to ensure regional investment
  • local companies being placed at the heart of supply chain strategies to facilitate more sustainable employment opportunities – particularly for young people
  • local growth, which will follow when regional productivity increases

Local companies need more clarity about future pipelines of work to be confident about taking on more trainees and apprentices who can then develop to become the managers of the future. With the local agenda in clear view, CAN is working relentlessly with regional procurement bodies – recently we reported on its success with NEPO to raise awareness about the talent which can be found within the North East construction industry.

As one of its aims, CAN is promoting the use of selected tender lists featuring local companies, as an alternative to single-sourced frameworks and is looking for strategic support from the leaders of local public and private organisations across the North East, including their formal endorsement of intelligent procurement. The wider regional supply chain must also adopt this approach so that the right company is awarded the right job – a horses for courses approach; the use of local providers of technical skills, services and products needs prioritising, more effective collaboration is to be encouraged, the widespread adoption of digital technologies embraced, the development of processes and people re-evaluated and issues surrounding payment terms, project bank accounts and retentions resolved.

CAN is keen to work with local procurement bodies to better understand their issues and together look at better and fairer ways of procuring construction projects in the North East. While CAN undoubtedly has a massive job on its hands to effect these changes and deliver on its promise of ‘Constructing the Region’ – if successful, the North East construction industry has a bright future ahead of it.

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.

The Whey Aye wheel – what will it add to the North East?

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

Last week, plans were approved to build the Whey Aye wheel on Newcastle Quayside. The Whey Aye will be Europe’s tallest observation wheel, standing nearly 140m high – 5m taller than the London Eye.

The original planning proposal for the wheel was for 10 years, but it’s been granted permanent planning permission. It’s expected to attract an additional 261,000 visitors to the city each year – generating almost £15m for the economy. The wheel will be built at Spillers Wharf, on the River Tyne. This site has been derelict since 2011 and I fully support it being brought back to life, but I’m not sure yet about the proposed plan. This project, and many others send out a powerful message about the ambition of the North East. Too often we’re forgotten about, with projects that could benefit us never making it out of London. We’re constantly working to improve the region and it’s about time we showed the world the North East we all know and love. There are already so many things to be proud of and significant projects like this seek to raise the profile of the North East.

It seems I’m not the only one with reservations about the plans, which aren’t fully supported by everyone in the region. Many people think the wheel will look cheap, nasty and add nothing to the city whilst others fear the loss of the Ouseburn, seen by many as a unique community.

The project will form the centrepiece of The Giants on the Quayside development, which will include a family entertainment centre filled with trampolines, climbing walls, a skywalk and café. A ‘Giant Sport Deck’ will also be built, featuring a multi-purpose play and sports complex, with covered five-a-side pitches and tennis courts available for public hire, as well as a virtual golf club called The Quayside Golf Club. The development hopes to change the city, creating jobs for residents and attracting thousands of new visitors.

Muckle and Ryder Architecture, both Newcastle based companies, have been appointed to work on the project, as well as Black & White Engineering and Lichfields.

There are also plans for a 12m tall human-shaped structure to be based at the development. A public competition for people to propose designs for ‘The Geordie Giant’ will be revealed later in the year.

The project, which is expected to be open to the public in 2023, is more than just a collection of retail, leisure and entertainment space, it shows the ambition and capability of what we can achieve. The North East has a built environment littered with striking landmarks, great achievements and a rich history, one I’m extremely proud of – it will be interesting to see what this project adds to that?

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