Explore Offsite - a review of this year's visit

Working within the Built Environment you would have heard a lot about the growing noise around offsite.

The concept is not new but the technology adopted firmly debunks the myths around the prefabricated houses that popped up post World War II.  

Staggeringly, the picture of the house included in this article was put up inside two days for the Offsite Expo demonstrated this week at the Ricoh Arena by ESS Modular.  Having walked around it yesterday I can assure you there is nothing flimsy and cheap in its construction or design. 

Feedback from the numerous exhibitors I know was positive, with a lot of interest from the right audience - developers, social housing providers and architects.  Interestingly, there were a number of more traditional building product manufacturers exhibiting, too.  Clearly, these suppliers can see value in investing in the show to entice modular manufacturers into partnering in their products.

Added to this, existing manufacturers are developing products to better suit the offsite space.  An example of which comes from within precast concrete.  Due to investors stipulating the need for quick return on investment AEDAS Homes has developed their offsite solution.  As I have witnessed from other businesses, the real beauty of such products is the ease of setting up factories to suit the regions need (AEDAS has 11 throughout Spain and UK).  Furthermore, with the lack of available skills, such products are easier to complete using semi-skilled workforces.

And so to offsites next challenge - skills and innovation.  A misconception is that offsite need the skilled workforces required by more traditional house builders.  Wrong.  After all, this is a manufacturing environment.  I listened to a very interesting seminar fronted by Alison Nicholl, Head of Constructing Excellence, together with Marcus Bennett, Future Skills and Innovation Lead at the CITB and Luke Boorman of AMRC.

Aside from the more obvious advantages to the industry adopting offsite, Marcus highlighted that the Built Environment contributes 45% of the UK's carbon footprint!  Other than the clear reduction offsite provides in terms of time he pointed out that of the industries total £65b turnover £18b is attributed to dealing with defects, fire fighting and waste.  

Through the CITB's work Marcus highlighted that they expect 42% of large firms to adopt this technology over the coming three to five years.  However, of these, 38% of businesses expect to improve or seek new skills.  Fundamental to this is the industries need to standardise the products offered.

The CITB has recently poured £1.25m into their Future Skills Commission via two hubs (Construction Scotland Innovation Centre and the Manufacturing Technology Centre).  Among other actions these will up skill individuals, to include trainers, drive CPD's in offsite, create school engagement  and further develop the industries adoption.

Through studies, worryingly, the Built Environment lags second bottom in it's adoption of digitalisation.  I have been fortunate enough to see how new technologies can make a difference within manufacturing plants.  Summing up Lukes discussion on new technologies available it is plain to see the huge benefit it's investment brings.  Funded by the government, the AMRC is a world-class centre for advance manufacturing through robotics, automation and digitally assisted assembly (among other activities).  I would strongly recommend you review their site to see if they can help your organisation.

To conclude, I have been to numerous conferences and exhibitions over recent times where the main subjects covered around offsite has continued down well trodden paths (time and cost saving).  For me, yesterday demonstrated that the industry is moving on and gaining genuine traction.  With recent investment into the likes of Project Etopia and TopHat the space is primed for further advancement. 

 

Marketers, business owners and Managing Directors are likely to agree when I say that back in mid-2008, in addition to those expected redundancies, marketers were some of the first to be cut from budgets. Manufacturers and distributors alike were quick to shield and even embrace star sales personnel. I witnessed companies investing further in product innovation, whilst at the same time slicing large chunks of the budget out of target market steer, developed via strategic marketing. Through the intervening years more and more firms seemed content to let a hybrid Marketing Manager or Sales & Marketing Director carry the in-house expertise as to the direction needed to develop market share.

Reflecting on the financial year just gone and given the change of optimism, there has been a definite shift by larger privately owned and PLC companies. Rather than allowing the market to dictate, investment is being made, with organisations now looking to gain advantage through the use of insightful, strategic market knowledge. Working in tandem with R&D, the creative side of marketing and sales-force, companies are investing in strategy specialists, with key skills in market data collection/manipulation, strategy review/development for given verticals, and plan roll out at company-wide level. It would seem companies are no longer content to see where the market takes them, and would rather provide the solution to foreseen needs based on legislative, geographic and project-specific requirements. This, in turn, has led to sustainable and meaningful value propositions which resonate with clients, leading to strong forecasting and profitable sales pipeline.

Over the past year, having successfully completed a number of assignments within this space, I would have to say there is a marked increase in demand for high-quality individuals with such specialisms, invariably leading to a hike in salary expectations. This was perfectly illustrated when recruiting for a Product Manager, in an unfashionable part of the country. My client was expecting to pay c.£40k for the role but having identified in excess of 70 individuals through our headhunt approach, we concluded that the company was some £15k light for the calibre required. As always, perceived ROI shapes clients expectations… and if anyone is in the right position to demonstrate this, it should be a strong strategic marketer!
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