Industry Insights – October 2020: Vision for the Future

By Jen Heil | October 30, 2020

Welcome to October’s Industry Insights blog. This month, we’re reflecting on the key themes that emerged from the NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit and the vision laid out for the future of the industry. We also explore the stumbling blocks that have appeared following the launch of the Green Homes Grant and take a look at an innovative, Manchester-based project that’s helping laid-off theatre workers find work, filling the construction industry skills gap and levelling up homes to tackle the climate crisis all at once. 

Image shows a quote reading "It's clear we need to have resilience, we need to have flexibility and we need to work together."

Spotlight on The NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit: Communication, Collaboration & Culture 

The NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit: The Digital Future delivered two days of insightful, passionate presentations from industry leaders, exploring what lies ahead for the construction industry in a world facing mounting challenges. The lineup of speakers included the likes of Construction Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, Dame Judith Hackitt and Phil Bernstein, plus many more, each delivering fantastic presentations reflecting on some of the key concerns affecting the industry. Themes such as political and regulatory changes, the impact of COVID-19, and the rapid acceleration of digitalisation underpinned an event that captured the essence of an undoubtedly pivotal moment for the sector. 

Throughout the programme, some core messages emerged. The importance of communication, collaboration and culture was reiterated again and again, signalling three vital aspects for positive transformation within the industry. And there is no doubt that transformation is what’s on the cards. 

There was a clear consensus amongst the speakers that construction has an essential role to play as the world finds its feet amidst the continuing upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic. Nadhim Zahawi stated in no uncertain terms that construction is “at the heart” of the government’s recovery plan, whilst Dame Judith Hackitt gave a heartfelt congratulations to the industry for all that is has achieved during lockdown. She also, however, urged consideration of how lockdown has heightened the worries already faced by those living in high-rise accommodation and highlighted the need for a “new way of thinking” to move the industry forward and tackle the issues revealed by Grenfell. The call for change was echoed throughout the summit: for pro-active change in anticipation of coming legislation; for a move away from adversarial ways of working to a more collaborative approach; and for wider digitalisation, less fragmentation and a greater sense of shared responsibility. Whilst these are not new conversations, there was a sense of renewed hunger to see the vision for change come to fruition.  

The speakers’ sentiments were reflected in data shared by McKinsey’s David Rockhill, which showed that 90% of construction leaders believe the industry needs to change now and 80% believe that the industry will look radically different in the next 10-20 years. Digitalisation will be a key element in this transformation and Phil Bernstein reflected on the technological developments that have moved us from hand drawing to CAD and BIM, and the path that’s now paved towards what he dubs ‘integrated digital delivery’. 

The digital tools available to the sector are continually evolving but there are gaps in adoption which have so far prevented consistent and effective digitalisation. NBS CSO, Richard Waterhouse, rightly acknowledged that “we can’t just digitise what we already do”. Bridging the adoption gap calls for a better use of data, clear methodologies and a focus on meaningful outcomes. Anne Kemp, of UK BIM Alliance, drew attention to the importance of achieving a common understanding and approach, calling for the industry to be resilient, flexible and to work together. Mirroring this call, former Government Chief Construction Advisor, Paul Morrell, observed that “it’s not about technology, it’s about culture. The technology for digital transformation is there but the industry must step up to the plate and take ownership for driving change from within – and that must happen through improved communication and a significant culture shift.   

A key part of that much-needed shift has to do with the understanding of ‘value’. Phil Bernstein delivered some thought-provoking reflections on health, safety and welfare in the built environment and supply chain, in the context of climate change, COVID-19, social justice, modern slavery and fire. As well as considering the agency of the players within the supply chain and the methodologies for representing and transmitting information, Bernstein argued the importance of understanding value in terms of results beyond the financial. Rather than focusing on outputs, we must focus on outcomes – for social justice, safety and the climate amongst other pressing concerns.  

Those three core themes were once again evident: to shift the culture and embed this broader understanding of value, we need better communication and collaboration between the segments of the supply chain and beyond. It is vital that we understand the integrated relationships between design decisions, the supply chain, construction activity and the end users. The Construction Innovation Hub are already providing the means to make this happen. Speaking to the specifier’s stream, Gill Kelleher introduced the Value Toolkit, which we touched on in our September Industry Insights, and the framework it provides for considering social, economic and environmental factors across the full investment lifecycle.   

Similar sentiments were clear in the manufacturer’s stream, with Robin Cordy from the NBS asserting that “transparency, truth and trust” should be at the heart of manufacturers communications, enabling that effective collaboration across the supply chain. These watch words reiterated Adam Turk’s message, speaking in his role as chair of the Marketing Integrity Group. He outlined the forthcoming Code for Construction Product Information, which is in its final technical review and will be landing in 2021, and highlighted what it will mean in practice. The code will require that manufacturers product information is accurate, accessible, up to date, clear and unambiguous. Turk urged manufacturers not to wait for the code but to act now, asserting that “the integrity of our industry will be demonstrated by how we respond”. The code extends beyond specific technical information, encompassing all types of product information communications, and manufacturers will need to ensure that marketing activities, webinars and social media etc all adhere to those principles of truth, transparency and trust. 

Despite speakers and participants being scattered far and wide, engaging with the summit from various home offices, dining rooms and coffee tables, there was a palpable positive energy in response to the presentations and discussions. Transformation was the message that permeated the event, from Dame Judith’s unequivocal statement that “we must remove the silos of self-interest… stop making excuses and start making changes” to Richard Waterhouse’s closing reflection that “where we are and where we have been is no longer good enough”. The call is clear, enthusiasm for industry transformation abounds and the digital tools to make it happen are there. Now is the time to put them together and embrace positive change.  

The above is merely a snapshot of the fantastic content and sense of community that made up the Construction Leaders’ Summit – it you’d like to experience it for yourself, you can access recordings of all the presentations and Q&A discussions, plus some further reading, through the NBS website. 

Image shows a row of terraced houses

The Green Homes Grant hits a stumbling block 

The founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis, has branded the government’s Green Homes Grant a ‘flop’ after feedback and a snapshot Twitter poll revealed massive issues with the scheme.  

The flagship initiative, which opened for applications at the beginning of September, requires that eligible homeowners obtain at least one quote for each planned piece of work from a registered tradesperson. The requirement is a sensible one, rightly put in place to prevent sub-par installations of energy efficiency measures, which would inevitably undermine the core aims of the scheme. It seems, however, that registered tradespeople are few and far between, leading to a deluge of complaints, with potentially as many as 80% of homeowners unable to find registered installers in their area. Where people are able to find registered installers, another stumbling block is appearing: these rare approved tradespeople are booked solid, with no capacity to begin work – let alone finish it – before the government’s March 2021 deadline for completion. 

The complexity of the scheme is also proving off-putting to many. The tiered system of primary and secondary measures is one aspect that has proven frustrating. Secondary measures include works such as double glazing and draughtproofing, but eligible homeowners and landlords can only apply for these works if they are also applying for qualifying primary works – which often eat up the whole of the available grant. Those whose homes would benefit from secondary measures but don’t have primary measures to apply for are therefore end up falling through the green homes gap, unable to make use of the scheme. 

These issues and the understandably negative response make something of a mockery out of an initiative intended to give away billions of pounds and improve the UKs languishing building stock. In response, Lewis has called for three key improvements to the scheme: 

  1. Get more installers onto the scheme to meet demand. 
  2. Spread the budget fairly to avoid a postcode lottery and ensure those in areas with currently no registered installers will have the opportunity to take advantage of the scheme. 
  3. Change the tight “all work must be finished within six months” deadline. 

So far, the government’s only response has been a brief statement that they are “working closely” with the industry to meet demand. Time will tell whether the scheme can deliver on the government’s promises but, without significant changes, all signs point to many being left out in the cold. 

 

On with the show – theatre workers in Manchester pick up the tools to tackle the climate crisis 

Manchester has a proud history of arts, activism and innovation and the city is proving its agility once again with an inspiring new project. Founded by Red Co-op and Greater Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal, Retrofit Get-in is creating green employment for Manchester’s multiskilled live events workers, as they help make the city’s homes carbon zero. 

Covid-19 has decimated the live events industry with thousands of people across Manchester put out of work by the pandemic. The Retrofit get-in project is taking the skills that live events workers already have and utilising them to level up homes, creating good jobs and tackling the climate crisis at the same time. But working with already skilled events workers is just the beginning for this ambitious project. 

There are 1.2 million households in Greater Manchester and the majority of those homes need retrofitting in order to help the region stay within its 2038 carbon budget. Retrofit Get-in aims to build a schooltosite scheme that will retrain people with the skills it takes to retrofit homes. Carpentry, electrics, plastering, brick laying, design and project management are all needed to take on this challenge, and the project hopes to see 55,000 Mancunians get into retrofitting to help the cause. 

Retrofit Get-in’s rallying cry asks the city’s people whether they want to go back to the old normal or whether they want to live in a city that cares about its citizens, provides dignified, well paid green jobs and protects its most valuable resource – the environment. In true Manchester spirit, the project envisions the city becoming a world leader on tackling the climate crisis, delivering the future its people deserve. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about the project or signing up to be part of it, you can do so here. 

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