The President of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has warned that major construction and infrastructure projects will not be delivered unless the industry changes the way it works.
Tim Hopkinson told association members and guests at the annual BESA President’s Lunch that wider adoption of off-site construction methods and digital procurement would be essential to deliver crucial projects like nuclear power stations; transport infrastructure and housing.
Revitalising delivery methods would improve productivity while helping to tackle skills shortages and could also alleviate payment problems, he added. Employers have “no option”, but to move with the times and embrace new techniques, according to the President, with the UK’s shortage of construction manpower fuelling “an off-site revolution”.
“The UK’s major infrastructure pipeline and housing needs will simply not be achievable – unless we work in a completely different way,” said Mr Hopkinson, who is managing director of E Poppleton & Son and is serving a second year as BESA President.
“The UK construction industry simply cannot deliver everything competently in a world of increasing opportunities and demands for higher standards with a shrinking pool of resource and talent.”
He pointed to the fact that building a third runway at Heathrow Airport would require more than 15,000 site workers, unless delivered differently, and that the two proposed nuclear power stations – at Hinkley Point and Wylfa Newydd – could each require more than 6,000 site-based technical staff.
“These numbers are simply unsustainable. We must deliver much more of our product in a factory environment. This will give us a far better chance of finishing projects to a high standard and provide better and safer working conditions for our people,” said Mr Hopkinson.
He urged the building engineering sector to take its lead from the way the manufacturing industry transformed itself through greater automation and improved production processes. He predicted that, in the next two to five years, there would be a surge in the use of offsite and modular construction; much greater collaboration between organisations and professions; growth in the use of digital technology and procurement; and more (and more diverse) apprenticeships.
He added that BESA would increasingly be called upon to lead this transformation by setting new technical standards and to help businesses provide evidence of their competence and compliance. He said the multiple shocks experienced by the industry in the past 18 months had made the building engineering sector’s “professional credibility” more important than ever before.
The UK’s departure from the EU in March will make it harder for project developers to source large amounts of site labour “when the pressure is on”, but Mr Hopkinson described this as a potentially significant long-term benefit of Brexit. “We will now have to ensure that everyone has completed the right training and has appropriate skills for how we want to work,” he said.
He also told the BESA lunch that increasing the proportion of building engineering work completed off-site would make the industry more appealing to potential recruits. The collaboration needed to make off-site successful would also gradually diminish the sector’s problems with late payment.
“Many of the things that make our industry so unattractive to young people will be transformed. If it becomes safer, cleaner and more technologically driven – and less adversarial – it becomes a much more appealing career,” said Mr Hopkinson.
“Full collaboration from the outset is essential…and BESA and its members can lead the way from the development of standards to help drive compliance…right through to a new and fair commercial environment of digital payment.”
He concluded by saying that there was a growing feeling that, while the last 18 months had been hugely challenging and there were many more obstacles to be overcome, lessons were being learned and the “industry was moving on”.
Tim Hopkinson will also be chairing a session on off-site construction during the BESA National Conference in London on November 1st.
Visit: www.thebesaconference.com for more information.