“The image of construction” (again)

Leonie Thomas blog - guest post by Paul WilkinsonFor my friend Leonie Thomas, I recently wrote a guest blog focusing, yet again, on “The image of construction”. My starting point was the the merger of the UK Contractors Group and the National Specialist Contractors Council to form Build UK, which launched on 1 September with a five-point action plan for the UK construction industry:

  • the image of construction
  • industry’s skills needs
  • effective pre-qualification
  • health and safety performance, and
  • fair payment practices.

I won’t rehash the arguments again (you can read the post) but it sparked a few tweets – particularly during the Construction Industry Council’s industry summit on 8 September – and I’ve talked in several gatherings about the need for the industry to address its fundamental behaviours if it is to change its reputation. A Constructing Excellence collaborative working champions debate (and tweetchat – Storify) last week about the future of integrated collaborative working reminded me of a handful of past good examples of culture change (eg: MOD Andover North), but, sadly, such ground-breaking projects remain the rare exception rather than the norm.

It’s no good, in my view, simply saying we need to shout from the rooftops about the industry’s achievements. However fantastic some of our work is, the wider perception of construction is coloured by “cowboy builder” stories and other negativity; the industry’s reputation is the natural legacy of a host of past (and – too often – still current) inefficiencies and bad practices:

  • adversarial attitudes built on mistrust and mutual suspicion
  • poor health and safety
  • blacklisting
  • industry fragmentation and silo mentalities
  • a lack of diversity (and resulting issues of sexism, racism and homophobia)
  • procurement processes fixated on lowest price (not best value)
  • low/no investment in R&D
  • belated use of sophisticated IT, and
  • often antiquated, unfair and late payment practices.

I’ve been contacted by people trying to make things better:

  • Last week, for example, I attended an industry round-table looking at issues of late payment organised by Construction News and Textura, and the latter* is collaborating with another publication Heating and Ventilation News to run an online Tweetchat (on Friday 25 September between 12 noon and 1pm BST; hashtag #latepayment) about late payment.
  • And on Friday I received a call from LaVern Brown, a builder based near Milton Keynes and author of a book – How to win when dealing with builders – who is doing his bit to help the building industry, frustrated by the negative TV programmes such as Channel 5’s Cowboy Builders, etc. While his book was aimed at clients, he’s also written from an industry perspective and he’s keen to help any business who feels they might benefit. (We also talked about how many small builders could go a long way towards improving their efficiency and their image by marketing and communicating more efficiently using technology). If you’re interested, email LaVern.
  • Pushing the theme of technology, October will also see Digital Construction Week (see my May EE post), helping promote the digitisation of the industry (I believe I am due to participate in a session on Thursday 22 October).

In the meantime, I will continue my personal crusade to try to move the debate beyond the “Lipstick on a pig” discussion of “The image of construction”.

[* Disclosure: Textura is a client of pwcom.co.uk Ltd.]

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  1. […] recent developments regarding UK construction skills shortages and “the image of construction“, I fear the sector’s typically conservative and incremental approaches will do little […]

  2. […] Improved image of the industry [again]. […]

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