Collingwood's Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, recently sat down with the CEO of both The Structural Timber Association and Constructing Excellence South West, Andrew Carpenter. Andrew is a major influence in both offsite construction advancements and improvements to the construction supply chain so there was plenty to discuss in terms of where the industry is heading and improvements he feels need to be made.
Mark: Unity between central, regional and local government seems to be working to drive the release of land/planning. What have been the major drivers to this in your experience?
Andrew: For the first time in my 40 years within the UK construction industry we seem to have unanimity at national, regional and local government levels that housing is the number one priority, that offsite construction is the way to quickly increase the number of homes we build and timber is the building material of choice. The need to release land and to speed up planning is acknowledged. Barratt Developments PLC quote this current Government as the most planning friendly they’ve ever known for example. The requirement to vote ‘in favour’ of granting planning permission unless there is good reason not to is an example of this direction of travel. The main driver is, of course, the social need for more homes which could lead to social unrest if we don’t achieve our goals. It is this that if focusing politicians’ minds in my opinion.
Mark: We both agree that within building product manufacturers (in particular SME’s) there is a lack of strategic direction and associated investment. Through your work with Constructing Excellence there is a push to adopt funding via the CITB. How are you partnering the CITB and what can companies do to drive strategic improvements in its broadest sense?
Andrew: It is the STA that is working with the CITB to invest in SME’s to make them ‘better businesses’ with improved business acumen to expand to take advantage of the current opportunities. A guinea pig project took place a few years ago with outstanding results shown here. The work within Constructing Excellence is to help SME developers unlock finance more quickly to allow the construction of the homes to commence earlier shown here.
Mark: What key skills and personality traits are the industry sorely missing in adopting a more performance orientated culture and forward-thinking approach?
Andrew: The real skills and personality traits required centre around the need to work more collaboratively to allow for a truly integrated supply chain. It is only when we involve the entire supply chain early and procure on value, not the lowest price, that we will see the UK construction industry improve in performance and outputs. The move towards offsite construction and BIM will ensure this happens in my opinion as without early involvement neither stack up.
Mark: Speaking with Darren Richards of Cogent Consulting and yourself, skills within manufacturers and the wider supply chain are still of primary concern. How can manufacturers take advantage of the pool of talent from other industries and what is preventing us from attracting key talent?
Andrew: Our main problem within construction currently in terms of attracting people, particularly young people, is our poor image. Young people today are not keen on working on wet and windy building sites so the move towards offsite construction should help this. Furthermore, our people are brought up on modern technologies so the move towards BIM again should help matters. However what they see when they enter the industry is not often good so we need to improve our diversity, inclusion behaviours to ensure the young people stay. In terms of taking advantage, we need to highlight the many and varied careers available within our sector, emphasise the fact that the offsite sector is growing fast and then practice what we preach in terms of modern behaviours.
Mark: Communication and a more collaborative approach are key in making offsite construction work. How has this modernistic construction approach changed communication throughout the supply chain and how can the Structural Timber Association and Constructing Excellence organisation help?
Andrew: The truth of the matter is that the rump of the UK construction industry has not changed since Latham and Egan in the mid 90’s and most still behave like dinosaurs. The recent Mark Farmer Report, Modernise or Die, was another call to arms this time concentrating on the skills shortages. CE has over 500 demonstration projects which show the business benefits of a collaborative culture but unfortunately, we haven’t grasped the nettle in terms of cascading that knowledge throughout the sector. The STA has worked tirelessly to integrate its design, manufacture and erect members to provide a one-stop solution to potential clients together with understanding client needs far more actively. In all areas of construction it is still very much work in progress but for the first time in my 40 years, I do see light at the end of the tunnel. The opportunity of a lifetime has to be grasped in the lifetime of the opportunity and that time is NOW.