The Right Stuff?
Much has been written on the widening skills gap in construction. And much of what has been written focuses on traditional skilled trades that will become in even shorter supply thanks to retirements and Brexit. Important as this issue is, there is a bigger picture about the future shape of the industry and the skills it needs that often gets missed.
The construction sector hasn’t got a great record when it comes to productivity, adopting new technology or delivering added value to customers. If our sole focus in recruitment, training and apprenticeships is on a like-for-like replacement of traditional skills, and when digitalisation is rapidly changing how we work, how will things improve?
Shaping the future workforce surely has to be based around a deeper understanding of what drives productivity of delivery and value for our customers and for the users of the built environment. A key part of this is retaining and using what we learn from each project; something, again, that the industry has not been good at.
Using technology more broadly will help us get better at capturing and using lessons from each project – this is a knowledge management rather than a construction challenge.
Better use of resources will also be critical, whether that’s human resources, materials or energy. Structuring information and managing its use will lead to more efficient delivery and better productivity. Combining data captured through the BIM process, with the people and technology is where we can really add value for our customers. Some customers – such as the Education Funding Agency – have established benchmarks to define their expectations. These have driven improvements in their construction programmes as a result.
But surely the construction sector should be taking the lead. We should be the ones with the in-depth technical knowledge and the imagination to help our customers understand what can be achieved by working differently. Again, this is a different skillset from responding to RFQs and technical specs.
Osborne is working hard to develop the consultative skills of their people. This is a strategic move to help us define what drives success and value for our customer and their customers.
Some of this enquiry is shaped by the ‘Soft Landings’ process that is being promoted in tandem with BIM. Combining enquiring, motivated minds with rich, contextualised data will bring a new dimension to our business and the solutions we provide.
We will certainly need traditional skilled trades. But we need much more besides to make the UK construction industry a pioneer in delivering exceptional value, productivity and customer experiences.