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Aug 02 2013

I #LoveConstruction. You should too.

Love ConstructionThe Love Construction campaign has been gathering momentum since the 2 July launch of the UK Government’s latest construction strategy. Its origins lie in an editorial written by Construction News editor Rebecca Evans who argued that it was time for industry people to have their say in how the industry is perceived.

The vision for 2025 painted in the government’s document is ambitious, but it won’t be delivered if current perceptions of the industry aren’t changed, and this isn’t about a slick marketing or PR campaign (Ah, yes, I am also a PR and marketing guy!), it’s about the people already in the industry explaining why it’s a great place to work and develop a career.

This challenge to the industry was picked up by a group of industry people who responded to Rebecca’s call and met in a cramped Construction News meeting room three days after the strategy launch. In little over an hour, we ate sandwiches, did a load of brainstorming, made various commitments, and the campaign began to roll. Four weeks later, we are now seeing people (Mace’s head of BIM, David Philp, for example) and organisations (CITB, Wates, etc) endorsing the campaign.

My journey

I joined the construction industry almost by accident, and IT was part of that ‘accident’. I was doing a PhD in criminology but needed work to fund my fieldwork and pay for essentials like housing and food. I could use word-processing software (Wang – remember them?), so I went to a temp agency; my first assignment was at consulting engineer Mott MacDonald and my second was at another consulting engineer, Halcrow. I ended up spending seven years at Halcrow, and, when I finished my PhD, I didn’t want to leave construction.

QE2 Bridge WST PRTI’d learned about marketing and found I had writing and photography skills that I could apply. Before long, I was doing site visits, climbing up half-constructed bridges (the QE2 Bridge at Dartford and Second Severn Crossing stand out), photographing motorways, sewage treatment works and tunnelling projects (among many others) and writing about the people behind these projects. And while I was at Halcrow I also began to write about IT as the firm made its transition from manual drafting to computer-aided design (CAD).

This interest in IT continued during four years with Tarmac Professional Services, where I first encountered 3D design tools and electronic document management systems. And when I went freelance in the late 1990s, I wrote numerous case studies about use of IT to support construction projects. This led me to BIW Technologies and then my current business, where I remain actively involved in many aspects of construction IT (from SaaS collaboration to mobile, to BIM, to social media, to Wikipedia).

For me, construction is far more than muddy boots and hard-hats. It’s about people from a wide range of trades and professions working together to create new buildings and other assets, and – increasingly – this means using IT as an enabler. When I started:

  • we barely used email – now it’s almost universal
  • designers drew things by hand in 2D – now they are modelling in nD
  • we shared paper – now we collaborate electronically via ‘extranets’ and other tools
  • computers were large vanilla-coloured boxes in offices – now we have more computing power in a pocket-sized smartphone.

Adoption of IT will accelerate as the BIM revolution takes hold, transforming construction from its site-based craftsmen origins into a sophisticated and profitable form of advanced design and manufacture of built assets, and the UK has the potential to be a world leader in construction information technology. It will also provide great opportunities for young people who are often intuitive collaborators and users of software and devices – my son can already collaborate remotely with friends to plan, design and construct tunnels and buildings in real time (he’s 12 and loves Minecraft!). This enthusiasm should be exploited; we should be cultivating Generation Y and Z’s innate collaborative and IT capabilities, not locking them into silos and knocking the creativity out of them.

I love construction. It’s given me a great career, which I continue to enjoy. This is why I’ve written this blog post and this is why I’ve added Love Construction logos to my websites. You should too.

(This is a slightly edited version of a blog post also published on my ExtranetEvolution tech blog.)

7 comments

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  1. Alexandra Eaton

    Hi Paul

    What a most interesting piece.

    I too remember Wang – so am showing my age! Its funny how people end up in the marketing industry isn’t it?

    I started my life working in the City, then moved across to the West End to work for a property holding company – Palmerston Holdings, which is no longer in existence. After relocating to the South Coast I started working as a PA at a large local law firm and was involved in many marketing tasks such as organising corporate events and mailshots.

    Although not particularly IT savvy, I built an extranet with a colleague which allowed clients with bulk instructions to log on and see the progress of each of their matters. Since then I have become a Chartered Marketer working for myself and have ended up back in the property industry again. I work for Bennington Green (please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook & @BenningtonGrn) who are a firm of Property Consultants – Chartered Civil Engineers, QSs, CSs and architectural designers who are based in Bournemouth, but who also have offices in the West End, Bishops Stortford and the Bahamas. I agree with you. It’s a great industry to work within and during these austere times has certainly proved a challenge regarding the promotion, but the subject is always changing; with work from restructuring houses on Sandbanks to extending schools in Reading and building a whole new school in Dorset including securing the funding.

    Finally, I now sit on the Bournemouth Property Association which brings everyone involved in property in this region together on a monthly basis for either a formal event (breakfast with topical seminar) or an informal event (BBQ at the forthcoming air festival The Carlton Hotel on the seafront). You’d be welcome to join us for any events, so if you fancy a trip to the coast just let me know.

    There’s never a dull moment in construction with all the changes such as BIM , so I am very happy to support the I#LoveConstruction and constribute to its momentum and will look forward to your next blog on the subject. Kindest regards Alex

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      Thanks, Alex. Lovely to see my post struck a chord with you. Good luck with your efforts in Bournemouth.
      Paul

  2. Mike Serridge

    I too love the dynamism and creativity in construction and to be part of building something tangible that may have a legacy at least for several generations is very satisfying.
    What I will not miss when I finally hang up my steel toe caps is the exploitative behaviour of so many large main contractors. The boys at the top spout wonderful and doubtless very expensive mission statements and marketing blurbs about improving the image of construction, being good neighbours, environmentalism and ethical trading. Yet these same people create and preside over a culture which results in hugely skewed and impenetrable amendments to standard forms of contract (to offload all risk howsoever caused) and with such focus on every half per cent of the margin that they aggressively performance measure their site PM’s and Surveyors to the point where the coal face operatives regularly Dutch auction, find ways to delay and reduce paying sub contractors their entitlement and contra charge at every opportunity. Regretfully it is a culture which makes perfectly decent people behave in a manner that they consider perfectly normal and that others in other walks of life would find highly questionable. The prevailing attitude is that ” its only business and nobody gets hurt”, but the reality is that livelihoods of their suppliers and contractors are being destroyed everyday.

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      Mike, I think you would find many supply chain members in agreement with you. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with collaborative working initiatives (particularly through Constructing Excellence), and I remain optimistic that some of these destructive practices will eventually dwindle and disappear. We have to get away from a culture of lowest price, and look at how we achieve best value.
      Paul

  3. Mike Serridge

    How long does “moderation” take ?

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      Apologies for the delay. I was in the south of France last week, and had some days with poor/no wifi, so couldn’t keep up with the flow of comments. Thanks for that!
      Paul

  4. Madue

    Hi

    I am undertaking a survey for my dissertation in Construction Project Management. The dissertation is about technology in the construction industry. I will be grateful if you participated in the survey, the survey will take no longer than 5 minutes. Please follow the link below :

    https://www.esurveycreator.com/s/050597b

    Thank you very much

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