Will the #FarmerReview’s bitter pill be swallowed?

modernise-or-die

Mark Farmer has added another publication to the bookshelf of self-improvement guides for construction.  Modernise or Die is the headline grabbing title for the output commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) (who are they, I hear you cry!) at the request of Brandon Lewis and Nick Boles (the ministers for Housing & Planning & Skills respectively at that time) to undertake a review of the UK’s construction labour model.

I wholeheartedly agree with the assertion that a burning platform needs to be created to highlight the challenges the industry faces, not least the impending tsunami of the skill gap.  Farmer is right that this problem needs to be addressed and immediately.  Farmer adopts a medical process analogy to articulate the well-known symptoms and provides a candid diagnosis that leads to the prognosis “the industry must modernise or die”.  The question is whether the prescribed treatment plan will result in the transformational change called for and I, for one, agree is urgently needed.  The recommendations clearly identify what should happen, but to continue Farmer’s medical analogy, I fear the patient will not take any notice and the medicine will be left untouched along with a shelf full of other prescriptions.

The symptoms described are not new and not solely the preserve of the UK construction industry; these are global construction problems.  However, the UK has a significant skills challenge with a predicted “20-25% decline in the available labour force within a decade”.  This is a serious issue that does require a coordinated industry approach and state intervention.  Farmer’s ten recommendations articulate what he believes “should happen”, but this to me is where it just becomes another book on the shelf.  I cannot see any compelling evidence to suggest that these actions will be taken; I hope I’m wrong, but for me, it will continue to be business as usual.

I believe there is a lack of transparency over the institutionalised inefficiency that pervades the industry. Whilst most may recognise the symptoms, the systems we operate fail to provide a basis to improve.  Hence, we need to change the system and Farmer’s third recommendation rightly urges “the need to leverage the CLC’s business models to improve relationships and promote R&D”; (but we’ve heard this before many times).  What are these business models?  How do they align with the New Methods of Construction Procurement developed as a result of the Government Construction Strategies (Cabinet Office 2011 and Cabinet Office & IPA 2015)?  Evidence from the trial projects demonstrates what can happen and create some of the change called for here.

Researchers have questioned the effectiveness of this type of reform discourse, arguing that it is not enough just to understand the problem, “the socio-cultural structures and forces that influence behaviour and shape our views” need to be debated in order that we can “better engage with, and understand, the sources influencing the issue of policy formulation and diffusion” (Smiley, et al., 2014).  I’d suggest Supply Chain Analysis into the Construction Industry – A Report for the Construction Industrial Strategy provides a good starting point.  Whilst Farmer refers to Construction 2025 and the government’s “commitment to having a strong industrial strategy”, the point is we need to influence policy more effectively as an industry and for me, Farmer saying that government “should recognise the value of the construction sector” is akin to telling a smoker to stop smoking.  I question whether we as an industry understand how it should influence the ‘new’ industrial strategy. I’m waiting for the CLC to demonstrate the leadership the industry needs, but unfortunately, I cannot see our fragmented structure becoming a coherent voice anytime soon.  Chief Construction Adviser anyone?

Farmer suggests that “this is not just another ‘’must do better’ school report”, however, I reluctantly disagree; whilst the prognosis is clear, I fear the prescribed medicine is unlikely to be taken and the patient is unlikely to improve.

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Government Construction Strategy 2016-20

GCS2011 v 2016

The Government Construction Strategy (GCS16-20) for the current parliament has been published and there is much to be pleased about.

Firstly, GCS16-20 builds on the work undertaken in the previous parliament and in so doing ensures there is continuity in the strategy.  The distinction with previous government reports is important; this is a strategic document setting out the Government’s aims as the largest client to the construction industry.  Moreover, it explicitly states that it will “build on the progress made under GCS2011-15 and Construction 2025.”

Secondly, the tone of strategy is pragmatic, recognising that this is work in progress and there is still much to be done.  The Government acknowledge that the principle aim is to “improve government’s capacity and capability as a client” and hence, the first of four strategic priorities is Client Capability.

Thirdly, there is an absence of headline-grabbing targets. No longer is there an arbitrary 20% cost reduction target, instead there is a specific figure to be achieved. The strategy states that, by implementing the action plan to achieve the strategic priorities, “increased productivity will facilitate forecast efficiency savings of £1.7 billion over the course of this Parliament”.  However, it does also state that these forecasts “cannot be achieved without a highly-skilled, high-performing industry”.

Whilst there has been some consternation about the loss of the Chief Construction Adviser (CCA) role, the strategy does state how this strategy will be coordinated.   Firstly, there is the GCB, the Government Construction Board which will oversee the implementation of the GCS16-20 alongside the Infrastructure Projects Authority (IPA). “A newly established Strategic Delivery Group (SDG) will coordinate the activity of the Working Groups, and report progress to the GCB.”  And then the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) will also provide coordinated leadership to government.  So we have the GCB, IPA, SDG and the CLC … I couldn’t possibly comment on whether I’m pleased about this and whether we need a CCA! 

Finally, this strategy is more concise and focused than the previous one.  As alluded to, there are just four strategic priorities:

  1. Client Capability
  2. Digital and Data Capability
  3. Skills and the Supply Chain
  4. Whole-Life Approaches

Under these headings, working groups will continue their work on areas such as:

  • Integrating the principles of Soft Landings
  • New Models of Construction Procurement
  • Realise the full benefits of BIM Level 2 and the move towards Level 3
    [Note the funding of £15 million announced in the Budget (See Benedict Wallbank’s post)]
  • Continued publication of the Government Construction Pipeline biannually
  • A focus on Industry Skills
  • Meeting sustainability objectives
  • And finally, but most importantly, recognition for the Government to lead by example in fair payment practices

Whereas the first Government Construction Strategy was published in times of austerity, as reflected by the front cover design, it could be assumed that, given the colourful cover of this latest strategy, the outlook for construction and its relationship with government looks much brighter.

Construction Matters …

… does it?

After recent speculation, it was officially announced that the position of Chief Construction Adviser would expire in November. Peter Hansford officially steps down on 30th November and there will be no replacement; but does this matter?

Without being privy to discussions that came to this conclusion, I can only speculate as to the reasons why the government believe this is the right thing to do.  However, we can look at the rationale behind the decision to create the position in the first place.  And when we do, the question is …what has changed?  Moreover, it is evident from the Government’s own press release, there is confusion over what has happened in the past.

The need for a Chief Construction Adviser

It was seven years ago when Construction Matters was published by a cross-party committee, (chaired by Conservative MP Peter Luff), and recommendeConstruction Mattersd the position of Chief Construction Officer.  Paul Morrell was subsequently appointed in November 2009 as Chief Construction Adviser, initially on a two-year term.  The principal reason for the role was stated “To overcome the problem of the fragmentation of construction policy and procurement across government” and the position would have “operational involvement in policy and regulatory matters across departments.”  I would concur with Graham Watts’ assessment in the CIC press release where he indicates that he doesn’t see “any circumstances that have changed to negate the need for the role”.

Confused? Government Construction Strategy & Construction 2025

In the announcement about the new Construction Leadership Council, note 4 incorrectly states that the “Government Construction Strategy was developed with the launch of the Construction 2025 strategy”.  The Government Construction Strategy and Construction 2025 are two separate documents.  One focused on government, the other a vision for the wider construction industry.  The announcement may be right that some duplication may have resulted, but this is more likely to be due to the creation of the Leadership Council and having a different focus than the one originally set for the adviser.  The Government Construction Strategy provided a clear direction that I have argued has delivered what the Government required.

What next?

I would argue that the Government needs a Chief Construction Adviser with an updated Government Construction Strategy for the current parliament (the original strategy related to the last parliament).  As Government is collectively the largest client to the construction industry, it is imperative that it shows appropriate client leadership and supports in the development of this important industry.  The Government has long recognised this and that change is needed in the industry, but change requires leadership and the Chief Construction Adviser was that leader.

Note: This post is a slightly amended version of the the one first published on my Linkedin Pulse

Changing Construction

Is construction changing?
Does it need to?
I’ve attended two events recently where the emphasis of the discussions moved on from the topic in question to these more debatable questions.  I’ll accept that both events were focused more on the future of construction, but what struck me was the growing consensus both of attendees that are adapting and those urging for quicker and faster change.
The first event focused on Big Data and the opportunities for construction. The key conclusion for me was that opportunity does exist, but we need to focus on just getting the basic data right first as well.  The most striking presentation was provided by Gideon Farrell who, as a recent graduate with no pre-conceived views, is using technology to advance construction.  He is not focused on changing construction per se, but he sees the business opportunity to use technology which will in turn change construction.
The second event was CIRIA’s Future of Construction event.  I was struck by the positive overtone from the majority of speakers demonstrating how they are driving change within their own organisations and in turn changing construction.  Briefly:
  • Alan Clucas explained how Laing O’Rourke have put DfMA at the core of their strategy going forward;
  • Graeme Shaw passionately inspired others with his talk about how TfL are embracing lean and process improvement
  • The vision for Britain is digital as outlined by the BIM Task Group
  • John Boultwood talked procurement and highlighted that The IUK have produced excellent guidance in Project Initiation Routemap
The one salutatory warning was raised by Tim Chapman who eloquently raised concerns about the need to reduce carbon and how little we are actually doing about it; yet the built environment can and does have a significant influence over all aspects of carbon reduction.  I’d encourage you to review Highways England Carbon Routemap and the infographic (available at the bottom of the page).
Does construction need to change?  As one speaker said, if we don’t someone else will come in and take over.
Is Construction Changing?  It’s evident that there is much positive progress being made and I am personally optimistic that we are on the dawn of new era for construction, particularly:
  • if we realise the importance of Tim’s message that we must reduce carbon and realise the opportunity for the built environment in influencing this change
  • if we can get more Gideons involved; the younger generations need to be engaged in taking the industry forward
  • if more clients embrace Graeme’s passion for taking a common sense approach to improvement
  • if the supply chain adopt a similar value-added philosophy espoused by Alan based on DfMA and digital engineering
  • if we follow the guidance of the IUK routemap
Do you share my optimism? Add your comments below
Click here for click to the Storify of my tweets of CIRIA Future of Construction

Messi Construction

messi

Lionel Messi is now the leading goalscorer in La Liga, having surpassed a record that has stood since 1955.  Messi is an outstanding talent, however he is the first to acknowledge that his achievements could not be gained on his own; he is part of a team.  With the 2014 CIOB conference focusing on “Inspiring The Future of Construction“, there are many aspects of Messi’s career that the UK construction industry could learn from.

Messi’s achievements are certainly worthy of reporting, however is his success just down to his prodigious talent, being part of a great team or both? Whilst this can be debated, what can’t is that … success rarely happens overnight.

Success generally occurs because there has been a clear vision for the future supported by a plan that has been implemented.   In the case of Messi, his success can be traced back to when his talent was recognised and developed by Barcelona, the club he has played for since the age of 11.

Barcelona has enjoyed several sustained periods of success, the first in the early 1990’s under the leadership of Johan Cruyff.  Cruyff, a legend in his own right, had a vision and plan routed in developing young talent and creating a style of play very different from other teams. The approach was successful and was replicated again in the Messi era.  The nucleus of the team Messi has played in included many who have come through the Barcelona youth system; they understand each other and the style of play that is expected of them.  It is a style that others have now imitated and indeed improved.

But what does this have to with construction?

I would suggest that Barcelona has influenced world football, not the other way around.  Whilst it is laudable that the UK construction industry creates persuasive reports like Construction 2025, the real influencers of change are the leaders of the industry’s companies.  And I would ask these leaders:

  • What is your vision for the future?
  • Is your plan in place and being implemented?
  • How are you recognising the talent you need for the changing future?
  • How are you nurturing, developing and retaining this talent?
  • Do all your team know the way you will be operating in the future?

Success does not happen overnight, and whilst 2025 may seem like a long way off, it’s just ten short years away!  Just remember, it’s ten years since Messi made his debut.

WordPress Post

CIC Happold Medal Lecture 2013

CICRobin Nicholson became the ninth recipient of the CIC Happold Medal, awarded jointly by the Construction Industry Council and the Happold Trust after delivering the lecture entitled “Collective responsibility for a sustainable industry”. Tues 29th Oct’13 at the Institute of Civil Engineers.

I’ve created a storify of the event and tweets.

Robin, a past Chairman of the CIC, gave a potted history of the CIC on the start of its 25th Anniversary which has coincided with a significant amount of fervour about industry reform and continues today.  His conclusion on reform was essentially ‘we know what to do, let’s stop talking and start doing more’.  I couldn’t agree more having just read another (good) report on Supply Chain Analysis of Construction by BIS that isn’t really telling us anything we didn’t already know.

The main focus of the lecture was on sustainability and Robin provided a plethora of amazing stats to make the point we need to make better use of our resources; we can’t continue being so wasteful. And for the built environment this means rethinking about how we reuse our assets.

However whilst sustainability is an absolute imperative, the collective challenge for the supply side of the industry is address the root cause of the many issues highlight by Robin that prevent the progress of, amongst other things, sustainability.  Interestingly the dilemma of CIC is the recognition that professional institutions reinforce a fragmented process and a silo mentality; yet the obvious solution of combining institutions or creating a single one is in the too difficult pile.

Robin apologised for the depressing nature of his comments, he is an optmist by heart. I felt as if the subsequent panel debate focused too much on the negative and failed to emphasise the many good things that are taking place within the industry.  As an industry we do many amazing things and I strongly believe we will continue to evolve in a progressive and postive manner.  BIM is undoubtably providing the catalyst to rethink how we operate and move towards more collaborative and integrated practices.

Review of Government Construction Summit

Image

Government Construction Summit

The summit for 2013 is over and the big news is we have:

  • a new strategy and
  • a new Leadership group

Part of my benefit of attending such events is that I’m able to keep up-to-date for my students, so I’m constantly thinking “what will I be telling my students”:

The key message I took from the plethora of keynote speeches was that there were no new statements and we, the industry, just need to get on and deliver – which we can with our new strategy digested and guided by our new board.

Piff the magic dragonThe summit attendees that stayed for the dinner were entertained by Piff the Magic Dragon.  Piff entered the stage with disinterest and focused on whinging about the cost of his tricks and gimmicks; 20 minutes later he left the stage to raptuous applause, having entertained the audience left wondering how did he do that?  It’s magic after all.

I’m left wondering whether the Summit is really just a magic show and whether like the magic tricks, will I ever understand what really just happened and that things will soon return to business as usual?

My principal reflection from the event is that whilst the excellent work being done and talked about in the Knowledge Hubs on BIM, procurement, GSL etc, the take up by industry is too slow.  If these hubs are talking common-sense, then why isn’t the industry adopting and changing?  I raised concerns following last year’s event and referred to Professor Stuart Green’s book Making Sense of Construction Improvement and the same concerns remain:

Is it possible to change the industry?
This is another blog post; as is a more detailed view on Construction 2025, although this article in Construction News is pretty good and is saying a similar message to me!

Pinterest in BIM – why the Govt mandated BIM and it’s subsequent implementation

This post is still work in progress as I endeavour to create my BIM Pinterest. As Government websites seem devoid of such images, I needed a site with the appropriate images hence I’ve created my own on my website.  So this should be read in conjunction with my new Pinterest.

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