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April Overview – Julie Bell-Barker

I am pleased to be able to welcome you all to April’s Constructing Excellence Overview on which I want to talk briefly on the key challenges facing the construction industry.

Despite the massive shock inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are a number of industry reports forecasting a growth in the construction sector over the next couple of years. With a new forecast growth and positive outlook in the construction industry, what could possibly be keeping construction professional up of a night? My thoughts are focused on what I believe to be the big three challenges facing the construction industry over the next several years, these are changes in construction legislation, climate change and skills & labour shortage.

Whilst there have always been many challenges across the construction sector, I believe the combination of the three areas mentioned above will see the biggest impact that the construction industry has seen within the last 50 years. The UK construction industry is currently undergoing major reforms and we need to be ready by insuring we have the right competencies and skills.

Changes in Construction legislation

Firstly, with regards to the changes in construction legislation, the Draft Building Safety Bill has been covered quite extensively by Construction Excellence in one of its Webinars and through its Quality & Compliance Theme Group meetings. Whilst the new legislation is proposed to be in place by the end of the year it has already started to have an impact in the construction industry. Construction professional and contractors are starting to plan their service responses to the new requirements, ensuring their teams have the right competences to ensure they can deliver to the compliance and quality requirements driven by the draft Building Safety Bill. What are you doing to ensure your teams are competent and ‘who’ and ‘how’ is ensuring compliance and quality at each stage of the project.

Climate change and carbon reduction is not just a technical challenge and a financial headache it’s also a highly emotive subject. The fact is that climate change is accelerating, and this is driven by carbon emissions. The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, the choices we make on building form, orientation, materials and building services will determine that building’s carbon emissions for many years. With challenges come opportunities, changing legislation and policy will drive the industry to innovate, those companies that invest in skills and technology will win new business, improve efficiency, help to cut costs, and breed innovation.

The challenges around skilled labour shortages are complex, particularly around the negative perception of working in construction and the questions surrounding diversity and inclusivity. With an ageing workforce and less young people entering construction, the industry looks certain to face a skills crisis within this decade. Many construction workers are retiring, and the rate of retirement looks set to increase as 22% of the workforce are over 50, and 15% are in their 60s. Add into the mix the rapidly growing industry around Modern Methods of Construction (MMC’s) it would seem that the traditional construction skills need to adapt. Again, what are you doing to ensure the industry has the right skills and competencies to meet the challenges facing the Construction industry.

So, in summary, my call to action would be this, if you’re not familiar with the Draft Building Safety Bill and how it could impact the construction industry I would strongly recommend you read the Impact Assessment published in 2020 by the MHCLG. If you would like to understand the construction industry challenges around carbon reduction there are many reports, papers and tool kits on the subject, but a good starting point would be the UK Green Building Council. Importantly, put some time aside to really think about both your team’s and your own competencies in meeting the above key challenges that face use all as construction professionals.

Julie Bell-Barker, Head of Project and Works – City of Wolverhampton Council

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