With the demise of construction & building product shows throughout the recession, it was very encouraging to have received an invite to the inaugural UK Construction Week. After a breakfast seminar with Glenigans (more on this below), as most do at such events, I took an hour to meander around the 9 segments within the halls, familiarising myself with exhibitors and the latest trends in technology (I do love the look and feel of latest offerings and some of the amazing engineering that goes into manufacture). Although not entirely new, I found myself drawn to the “smart homes” arena, and in particular the more lavish audio systems one can purchase. I now have a clear answer to the often batted around question: what would you buy if you won the lottery? A lottery ticket has since been purchased, in the hope that I get to hear The Stranglers and such like from the downstairs toilet to my loft.
To more pressing matters. One main focus for me is always to catch as many seminars on our industry as is humanly possible. Allan Wilen’s (Economics Director, Glenigans) talk on industry trends for the coming year helped refine my thinking. Through easing of approval planning schemes, new residential approvals have nearly doubled in three years from 30,000 in Q3 ’12 to 50,000 this quarter. This has attributed to a good portion of the initial spike, then steady growth in the sector. What I failed to realise, however, is that much of this growth has been away from the Capital, due to the strength of the pound putting off some potential overseas investors. Conversely, fit-out of commercial space inner London has grown from 2 million square foot in 2011 to 8 million this year. Another area the government, from what I have heard, is getting right is the number of industrial project approvals; up 150% in the East Midlands and North East alone.
Critical to my occupation and the industry I serve; the talk on talent attraction was captivating. Pulling together four thought leaders (including Sarah Fenton of the CITB and John Patch of Roger Bullivant) I found it particularly interesting to hear about institutes and companies strategies for driving talent through secondary schools, whilst pulling back some of the 390,000 made redundant during the bust. Sarah shared the worrying statistic that same 410,000 of those employed in construction are eligible for retirement in the next ten years. She highlighted that the CITB has developed a web portal for new recruits (www.goconstruct.org) with the aim of reaching to a younger audience. Sadly, if not unsurprisingly, the average worker is a white male of 58 years of age. In fact, only 15% of the workforce is female. Driven mainly by John Patch, the speakers debated how the industry needs to make construction a more appealing profession for youngsters, from flexible working, a better-communicated message on sustainable project pipeline, developing partnerships with schools through open days/talks and alliances through the supply chain. All of which made a massive amount of sense in my mind.
An area I have become increasingly interested in is offsite production. I did not need much convincing in attending Richard Ogden’s (Buildoffsite and of building a McDonalds in two days fame) talk on the area. Talking with expected gravitas, he gave a compelling argument as to why clients should and would prefer such an approach, whilst dealing with the big question of warranty cover. Fact of the day; did you know that 80% of the flagship Cheesegrater building was manufactured in such a manner? I am conscious of using this word again but, staggeringly, of the 900,000 new homes built in Japan, half were built using this technique. Could this be the answer to the government’s aim of building 3 million new homes by 2020…? Would this take skilled trades and engineering jobs away from these shores…? With the cost of building homes being halved, if we ignore offsite production will UK developers import from countries who do employ such services?
Interesting times ahead based on my visit. Now, will I open with No More Heroes or a bluesy number from The Rolling Stones….