Nick Milestone, managing director of B & K Structures, is behind the strategy and shares his views on the challenge
Launched in July last year, the Construction 2025 Strategy provides a vision of how the industry and government will work together to transform and grow the construction sector over the next decade.
With the industry looking for new ways of working, there is time for businesses to get ahead of the game through the use of people, smart technology, sustainability, growth and leadership. However some professionals do not think that this strategy is the way forward.
The Construction 2025 challenge represents a new outlook for the industry – what was once a backward looking sector is now stepping into the modern world and looking forward, planning the transition to a low-carbon environment through the utilisation of advanced technology and the growth of a thriving British economy.
A vast volume of unprecedented change is presented through this challenge which calls for an overall cultural evolution in order to achieve each of the individual aspects of the strategy.
Not everyone agrees that the strategy is the best way forward for the industry. Dr Stephen Gruneberg of the University of Westminster has suggested an alternative approach, stating that the 2025 Strategy overlooks the fact that construction firms are only able to survive through an extremely competitive environment, existing on exceptionally low profit margins.
Gruneberg refers to the government’s targets as incompatible, inconsistent and unachievable – declaring that a strategy needs to be formed through a collaboration of the government and construction industry, rather than the government setting ‘arbitrary targets’.
Gruneberg argues that the image of the industry cannot improve until the people working within are genuinely respected and what they build is appreciated within the sector. I wholly endorse this point but from my perspective, as Managing Director of B & K Structures – I think there has been major progress already in this area. We are constantly developing strong relationships with industry partners to create outstanding projects that are admired from inside the industry and out. The innovative BskyB Believe in Better Building (BiBB) was created through consistent collaboration throughout the design and construction journey and has received wide industry acclaim.
This project is also is relevant to Gruneberg’s strategy of ensuring continuity of work with an infrastructure pipeline of five years or longer. Through the success of the collaborative working during first BskyB project, all teams were appointed to work together on the next two following builds.
A factor mentioned in both strategies, that cannot be challenged, is the crucial skills shortage within the industry. Both Gruneberg and the Construction 2025 Strategy highlight the need for enhanced training, especially within smaller businesses. In order for the industry to thrive post-recession, construction firms must be able to recruit, retain and develop skilled and dedicated people in sufficient numbers to meet the increasing demand for construction.
The Construction 2025 Strategy is based around people – it calls for an industry that is able to operate in safe and healthy conditions – becoming a sector of choice for young people by inspiring them into rewarding professional and vocational careers. This aligns perfectly with Gruneberg’s vision of professionalising skills in an education plan for construction qualifications.
As well as developing skills, workforces must also be trained to high standards in health and safety. We have found that the policy of providing rigorous skills and health and safety training, improves the quality workmanship and staff retention. It is vital for companies to engage with professional bodies in order to issue quality training and development programmes.
Both the Construction 2025 Strategy and Gruneberg state the need to enhance the use of IT within the construction sector. The 2025 strategy aspires for a smart industry, with the UK becoming pioneers in the latest research and technology, moulded by digital design, innovative systems and advanced materials.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is at the forefront of these technological advances. The government has recently announced that from 2016, all centrally procured government construction projects must be delivered using this innovative process. This is a huge step forward for the industry – encouraging collaborative working platforms and grasping the commercial advantages of the digital age.
Through modern methods of offsite construction – that is, manufacturing carried out in factory-controlled conditions for onsite installation, particularly the precision engineering of hybrid structures, we will be able to make vast steps forward in creating smart buildings using the latest technology.
Dr Stephen Gruneberg’s proposals are presented as an alternative approach, however, although differently positioned – there are many areas of commonality.
As a government written strategy it is easy to think that it is not relevant to real construction business, it is also easy to assume that the challenge is aimed at only key industry players and not SMEs. This strategy is something that involves the industry as a whole, working together to create a coordinated approach in order to make significant changes to the way that the sector operates.
It is key to collaborate with other businesses, large or small, to ensure each individual company’s survival through the strength of the overall industry. The year 2025 may seem a long way off, but in construction terms it is just around the corner. Whether you are in agreement with the strategy or not, it is time to start making the changes now in order to build a smarter, safer and more sustainable 2025 for the construction industry.