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24/07/18

There’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of technology and BIM and how various digital solutions can help make construction safer and more efficient. But the number of companies forging ahead and actually implementing this technology seem to be in the minority.

When asking industry role players why, the answer that is consistently given is cost. However, the early adopters dismiss this as a good enough reason to not implement digital transformation, citing that the technology ultimately pays for itself because of the cost savings it produces.

Real time information and collaboration
One example of technology at work as explained by Topcon is: “We have systems where the exact position of the final pass of the cutting edge of a machine can be recorded, loaded to a web portal, and fed back to the engineering surveying team for reporting as-built information for operational and asset management purposes.” (i)
It is this type of information sharing that facilitates better collaboration of expertise and results in project cost savings. Errors can be picked up on in real time and corrected immediately, rather than after the fact when sections of the construction have already been built. This helps facilitate not only on time delivery but also on time delivery.

Breaking the barriers of traditional work silos
The other challenge that technology helps to overcome is the disconnect that occurs between the design and engineering teams and the operations teams on the ground. Historically these divisions operated in silos, each concentrating on their own areas of expertise.

However, it is this divide that is often the cause of errors and delays as information is not communicated accurately. There’s also often a lack of understanding on the ground as to why engineers want certain information in a particular format. BIM pulls together information connecting and managing it in a way that can make projects more efficient and when people see this play out in real terms, there’s greater buy in.

Even after a construction project has been completed, the information can be pulled through for maintenance schedules and safety checks. This too can be linked up with technology to make operations more efficient. Such as using drones to survey structures or robots to establish safety parameters for further underground work. The question is: Will the only limitation to technology be those unwilling to adopt it?

(i) http://www.infrastructure-intelligence.com/article/jan-2016/digital-technology-are-we-missing-trick
23/07/18
It was reported in June that construction output and new orders were finally on the up with new projects being awarded hitting a high for 2018. The question was asked, is the construction industry finally climbing out of its slump?

2018 has been a tough year in construction. Aside from the Carillion collapse many main contractors have posted major losses and project delivery has been slow. This has been exacerbated by the ongoing uncertainty of the impacts of Brexit.

In the first half of the year, main contractors reported slower job creation and that many corporate clients seem to be holding back on decision making causing delays in breaking ground on major construction projects. Additionally many local budgets have been cut, reducing the funding available for infrastructure maintenance and development.

Is there sunshine on the horizon?
However, there are some sectors where progress is being ushered in by a demand that cannot be ignored. Highways England are forging ahead with their plans to upgrade several high traffic routes into smart motorways in an effort to ease congestion. The recent government announcement approving the Heathrow Airport expansion is more positive news for the industry.

While the construction sector as a whole is still struggling, there are regional areas reporting positive growth. As business, trade and exports increase in these areas, so do the opportunities for construction. To support the workforce and the burgeoning businesses there will need to be an expansion to networks of road and rail, as well as housing and other related commercial developments.

Regional development hot spots
Two regions reported as hotspots for development in the NatWest business survey are the East Midlands and the North West. The East Midlands is receiving a boost from the ongoing HS2 rail project, ushering in job creation in regional cities such as Sheffield. Once completed it is estimated to bring 6 million passengers to the region a year, supporting development and local economic growth. HS2 is also playing an important role in supporting development in the Northwest. The region recently hosted an awards evening recognizing excellence in construction for developments and infrastructure that have been completed in the area.
It seems that the best opportunities for contractors exist in these regional hotspots as it is there that growth is currently outperforming the national average. It’s positive news for an industry that is still plagued with negative headlines.
23/07/18
Recent news reports highlighted great excitement over the government vote of approval to expand Heathrow Airport by adding an additional runway. When completed it will add much needed capacity for both cargo and passengers. More interesting though is that the construction process may just usher in a new way of doing things.

The infrastructure industry has a legacy of poor delivery, undercutting margins and failing to complete projects on time, on budget or even to the right standard. It’s unsustainable – as was highlighted by the collapse of Carillion and the number of main contractors posting major losses on projects this year.

The news headlines alone have made everyone more aware, now more than ever, that low cost tendering is a slippery slope to disaster. Reports are that government role players are now working closely with industry leaders to create more efficient and sustainable ways of managing major infrastructure projects to ensure better delivery.

What will be different about the Heathrow expansion?
There is a massive opportunity for construction leaders to demonstrate that the industry can do better on everything from procurement through to benchmarking performance and maximizing the opportunities digital technology present to operate more efficiently. Already there are initiatives such as Project 13 aimed at achieving this, of which the airport is already a participant. Project 13 proposes an enterprise model that connects all the stakeholders and rewards based on time and cost delivery.
This approach is more collaborative and will require that relationships with suppliers and subcontractors are based on long term, mutually beneficial partnerships. If this can be achieved it promises a better working culture where information is shared with relevant stakeholders and through this, project milestones can be achieved.

Who will step up?
The Heathrow expansion has big shoes to fill if this is the expectation. However, if they do achieve it, it will be an accolade that few other major infrastructure projects worldwide have succeeded in achieving. In the UK Construction industry it is an opportunity to step up and prove that we do have the expertise, technology and management skills in order to successfully implement such a project. Maybe then we finally stop looking over our shoulders at the failures of recent months and look forward to building a more robust industry, invested in technology and sustainability while achieving on time and on budget project delivery.
23/07/18
On 5 July, business and energy secretary Greg Clark, announced a £420 million construction sector deal promising to revolutionize the industry. It’s an ambitious plan that aims to deliver 1.5 million homes by 2022 as well as supporting infrastructure, and to do this in a way that is time and cost efficient, and green.

But more importantly the deal aims to address the major skills shortage in the construction sector, setting aside £34 million to expand construction training programmes within the industry. These programmes will target the existing workforce ensuring that workers have the skills necessary to keep up with progress and technology. There is also a commitment to increase apprenticeships to 25000 by 2020 to encourage young graduates and school leavers to enter the industry.

Embracing technology
A key feature of the deal is the incorporation of technology to improve efficiency and delivery. To meet the housing demand, government proposes off-site manufacturing, digital design and embracing new manufacturing technologies. Smart construction will see the incorporation of robotics and machine builds to reduce time to delivery. Energy efficient design and construction methods are to be used to reduce energy usage bills of end users.

Smart technology is already being rolled out in many major highway upgrades and incorporated in rail scheduling to make transportation more efficient. It is promising to know that the government is open to new technologies because these hold some of the greatest potential to boost the construction industry by reducing costs and improving accuracy and efficiency.

Will this be enough?
The skills shortage in construction is a major concern for the industry especially as its being compounded by the effects of Brexit. This new deal is aimed at creating highly skilled and well paid jobs, supporting the industry and driving economic growth. But will it be enough to create the construction revolution needed to secure the future of the industry?

While the deal shares a great vision there is skepticism as to whether it will be able to achieve its goals in practice. Success will require close collaboration from various industry stakeholders, something that the industry has been hesitant to do up until now. However, this will be necessary if the industry wants to future proof itself. Collaboration, technology and smarter delivery are all key elements of what is neccessary to usher in change. Maybe this will be the revolution the construction industry needs.
23/07/18
Since the privatization of the railways, the main contractors involved in constructing rail infrastructure have been consistently plagued by boom and bust cycles due to funding inconsistencies. Projects typically start out with great momentum but as funding dries up contractors find themselves looking at smaller margins to get the project completed, on top of often having to let workers go.

It’s a far from ideal situation, driving up the costs of railways, resulting in job losses and putting a great deal of pressure on contractors and their supply chain. Up until now the only solution has been to try secure additional funding in advance so that projects don’t grind to a halt. While this may be a quick fix solution, it doesn’t address the underlying issues that are creating the boom and bust cycle in the first place.

Funds locked up in government

The Railway Industry Association has been working towards unlocking government funds in a timely manner for projects, but it appears to be a constant uphill battle that takes up a great deal of time and resources.

What is really needed is for the industry role players to develop a more collaborative approach and change their working strategy. The objective should be to find strategies to target and break the boom and bust cycle so that rail infrastructure development and maintenance can proceed at a more efficient pace. If this can be achieved it will ease cash flow burdens and create a more sustainable business environment for all infrastructure contractors, no matter their size.

Recommendations by the Transport Select Committee

Recently a report published by the Government’s Transport Select Committee made a number of recommendations for improving, in particular, the development and maintenance of railways. It specifically highlighted the issue of boom and bust cycles and the very negative effect it is having on the infrastructure sector.

In many cases SME contractors have been squeezed to the degree that they have had to close their doors. Given the important role that SME’s play in the economy, this is something that should not be allowed to continue. The Transport Select Committee’s recommendation may just be the catalyst needed to get all the concerned parties to sit down around a table and start to work towards finding a solution to support a more sustainable future for the industry.
23/07/18


With more than 154 000 construction workers in the UK currently from the EU (According to ONS data for the period 2014 to 2016), and 500 000 senior workers expected to retire from the industry in the next decade, the construction industry will be hard pressed to avert a skills shortage in the short and medium term.

Ordinarily the retiring workforce alone would represent a challenge for the industry, but combined with Brexit and the associated and yet unknown workforce complications this will bring with it, the perfect storm is building. If the UK loses all the senior expertise as well as access to skilled EU workers, the construction industry will be in trouble.

Where will the skills come from?
The UK government recently announced a drive to develop skills in the construction industry and has promised an investment of £22 million to facilitate this. But will these efforts be enough to fill the gap? Especially when the full implications of Brexit on the workforce and the construction industry as a whole are still unknown.

Opinions are that more should be done to encourage young people to develop their careers in construction. Even though it may take time for them to gain the level of expertise needed at a senior level, it is important to stimulate the workforce pipeline at an entry level.

More importantly, it is critical for companies to institute policies to ensure that the senior level expertise is filtered down through mentoring and career development programs so that there can be a succession plan for when senior staff do exit the industry.

Accessing the skills that are there
Alternatively, an interim solution may be to look to transfer skills from related industries. After all, leadership qualities are fairly similar at a very senior level and these people usually have the aptitude to quickly pick up on industry specifics to be able to operate effectively.

A more controversial aspect is the view that more skills could be made available to the industry if gender biases are addressed. Many female engineers, quantity surveyors and project managers enter the industry, only to leave within a few years because of the biases that make it a challenging environment to work in.

While the way forward may be unclear at this point, what is obvious is that something needs to happen, the industry cannot afford to hope that the crisis will dissipate on its own.

If you would like to discuss this article or have any future recruitment requirements to discuss then please give me a call on 020 7183 0255 or email: c.odonnell@ellisfox.co.uk
02/07/18

There is the belief that when an employee leaves a company it’s because they’re unhappy. While this may be true some of the time, more often people leave for other reasons such as a more senior position, a better salary or an opportunity to work with an emerging technology.

This is especially true in senior positions where there may be limited opportunities to move up within an organization. So the question is, when there’s a vacancy and you know exactly who could be right for the job, do you hire them back?

There are several benefits to hiring back someone who’s worked in the company before, provided they have a strong work history and left on good terms.

There is the obvious factor that they already know the company, its structure and policies and will be able to hit the ground running, so as to speak. However, the real benefit is in the knowledge and experience gained outside of the company, because this can bring in a fresh perspective and new knowledge.

They may have worked in another sector in the industry or even a related industry and been exposed to emerging technologies or different methodologies. There is the possibility that they could have working knowledge of new systems or technologies and be able to implement these to improve operational efficiency.

Why would they come back?
If you want to lure a past employee back, it can’t just be about the benefits for the company. There needs to be something that makes it worthwhile for the employee too that goes beyond the salary package.

Will there be learning opportunities for them? Will they be stimulated enough by their responsibilities and scope of work? Just because someone can do a job, doesn’t necessarily mean they want to do the job, especially if it’s something they’ve done for years. There needs to be something more, and it’s important to find out what that “more” might be for the individual.

Additionally, while may be familiar with the culture and policies, they may not have liked them. Has the culture changed? Have things improved? Or will they have the authority to implement the changes they deem are necessary?

Bottom line is that re-hiring can be very effective, especially for senior positions. However, it needs to be worth it for both the company and candidate.
02/07/18

Leaders in the construction industry carry a great deal of responsibility. They work with £bn budgets, oversee projects that impact thousands of lives, and ultimately decide the success or failure of a project based on their decision making abilities and management skills. And given what’s at stake, failure shouldn’t be an option.

Yet the number of main contractor projects that are completed on time or on budget are few and far between. The reason cited is often unforeseen delays, issues in the supply chain or price increases in material costs. However, a good project manager uses his knowledge and experience to foresee problems and put policies and remedies in place to mitigate the risks. How do they get it right where so many others fail?

Traits of successful construction leaders
Research cites that traits common to successful leaders in construction include: Good communication skills; ability to get results; strategic vision; and a solid understanding of the business. Additionally the ability to listen and working with integrity is what inspires their teams to follows them.

While there are opportunities for leaders to move up the ranks in the construction industry, one of the largely untapped resources for top management exists in other sectors. With the tech industry becoming more involved in construction there is an opportunity for a transfer of skills, and this could prove to be just what the industry needs.

Using tech to support management
BIM has become an invaluable tool for construction leaders, helping them to manage costs and processes from the planning stages through to implementation. Leaders from other sectors who have a sound knowledge of BIM can use their expertise to make construction projects more efficient and ultimately more successful.
Surveying, modelling, and analytics technology can not only help to improve safety on construction sites, it is also introducing a new skill set into the industry. Robotics and drone technology are tipped to become the game changers in the next decade and construction leaders who understand the technology and how it can add value to projects will be the ones making the most impact in the industry.

Despite all the tools available to managers, it’s the ability to get results that will matter most, not just in terms of successful project implementation, but also ensuring that there’s a consistent future pipeline of work and most importantly, that shareholders are kept happy.

If you would like to discuss this article or have any future recruitment requirements to discuss then please give me a call on 020 7183 0255 or email: c.odonnell@ellisfox.co.uk
26/06/18


Driverless cars and intelligent transport systems are no longer the thing of dreams. While this technology has been talked about regarding the transport of the future for some time - that future is soon to become reality.

With global trends towards lowering emissions and incorporating artificial intelligence in infrastructure, there have been massive investments in electric and automated vehicles, and associated technologies. This is now driving developments to create the intelligent infrastructure needed to support them.

Will the UK lead the way?
Reports are that the UK Government aims to be at the forefront of technology with regards to developing industry and infrastructure. But to do that they need to find solutions to managing an aging society, consider the future of mobility, find ways to incorporate Artificial Intelligence and data, all the while ensuring that whatever growth happens, is achieved through clean technologies that reduce effects on the climate and environment.

It is clear that to forge ahead, government will need to develop partnerships with key private sector companies and organisations that can contribute their skills, knowledge and technology to the process. Herein lies the opportunity for thought leaders to make their mark on the industry.

What is needed for future transport and infrastructure?
The number of commuters is increasing exponentially and developing efficient future transport facilities to meet this demand will need some innovative thinking. With more people on the roads and using rail, how does one increase capacity while maintaining and improving safety? And this safety not only relates to delivering commuters from A to B, but also health and environmental factors such as emissions, noise and air pollution.

Already there is a lot of development happening in the field of electric cars and automated transport systems with the aim of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and using instead cleaner renewable energy sources. Tech and engineering companies are finding ways to use data to make transport systems and facilities more efficient. Integration of smart systems and Artificial Intelligence is the way of the future.

Driverless cars and car chains are proposed as one of the solutions, however, there are concerns over safety and how these systems will be managed. Innovation will be required to come up with solutions that not only meet commuter’s needs but also ensure transportation remains safe and efficient no matter what route it takes.
26/06/18


It’s a well-known saying that you pay what you get for intimating that cheapest is not always the best. Yet despite several leading industry opinions to the contrary and several reports to back them up, lowest cost tendering still seems to dominate the landscape for main contractors.

While there are calls for better processes, in the foreseeable future nothing appears to be changing, how many more wake up calls does the industry need before things actually start to change?

Lowest cost carries a heavy price
Grenfell brought to light the very tragic consequences lowest cost tendering can have. When contracts are awarded on skin and bones budgets and costs increase during construction – as they invariably do – then costs are managed in other ways, compromising either the safety of the construction process or the actual site, costing lives.

Lowest cost tendering is cited as one of main factors that lead to Carilion’s collapse, and that their strategy of undercutting to win the tenders, in the end was their undoing. As one of the UK’s largest main contractors it’s left a gaping hole in the industry. Despite other companies tendering to take over contracts, projects stand half completed for now with an almost guaranteed budget increase if they are to be completed. On top of that, for some projects funding has been lost, leaving them in an uncertain limbo.

Smarter spending, better management
It seems that there is an overriding fear that if tenders are not awarded on lowest cost basis then it opens the door for bribery and corruption in the public sector. To back this up the John Poulson bribery incident of 1974 is cited. However, lowest cost is not the only mechanism that can drive smarter spending efficiency and it’s time for authorities to realise that party policy shouldn’t dictate how contracts are awarded.

BIM for example, provides tools to improve cost efficiencies from the planning right through to the implementation phases. Surveying technology too contributes to more efficient site works and can help ensure work is carried out efficiently. Drone technology can be used to inspect sites and pick up deviations from plans before the project gets too far along, helping to reduce the costs of correcting back to plan.

Rather than narrowing down the focus to the bottom line, perhaps those awarding tenders should look to the ways cost efficiencies can be achieved without compromises.