Beyond the summit – putting the Government’s plans into practice

July 15th, 2014 Posted in: Lakesmere

Having recently attended the Government Construction Summit* (London, 2nd July 2014), it was a great opportunity to enjoy the various discussions and debates that took place throughout the day about just how far the industry has come since the Government launched the Construction 2025 strategy at last year’s event. Without question, there is still a considerable journey ahead but in terms of laying strong foundations for future growth and facilitating change, there are definite signs that things are moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction.

In his keynote speech, Business Secretary Vince Cable MP outlined the many challenges that the construction industry still face and his strategy for the future was clear – without tackling the dire skills shortage the industry’s ongoing recovery could come to an abrupt halt.  By encouraging us all to look ahead and consider the implications of a construction industry that is so devoid of a skilled labour force that the ongoing development of technologies such as BIM and innovative working practices would become unsustainable, Mr. Cable painted a very startling picture indeed. However, what was perhaps most thought provoking for many was the realisation that change, if it is to be truly effective, must come from within the construction industry itself.  Identifying ways that individual companies can improve its own attitudes towards training and the support and retention of its workforce is something I’m sure was on the mind of many of the delegates on the journey home.

Concerns surrounding the industry’s skills shortage were also raised by Suzannah Nicholl, CEO of the National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC), with particular focus being given to the lack of training courses available that are specifically tailored to the specialist market.  Although undoubtedly still a major barrier to encouraging new talent to join the specialist contractor sector, an alternative view perhaps is that the absence of an existing training scheme is perhaps the best way to encourage a more proactive and innovative approach.  If there’s nothing suitable already in place, let’s create something of our own. For our part, the Lakesmere Group has developed its own School to Work scheme, allowing us to work directly with local colleges to offer students a bespoke Lakesmere Diploma qualification in a range of disciplines relevant to our services, helping us create ‘work-ready’ employment candidates.

This notion that the industry must work together to make the changes that are so vitally needed was also discussed by Andrew Wyllie, CEO of Costain, who gave an inspirational speech that showcased exactly what the popular buzzwords of innovation and collaboration can really mean in practice. As the first company in the UK to gain the BS11000 standard for collaboration, Costain is very much flying the flag for the need to develop strong and effective supply chains and this is something that the Lakesmere Group, itself the first tier 2 contactor to be accredited to BS11000, is also committed to.  By working together with Costain on such projects as the redevelopment of Reading Station for Network Rail, this shared ethos of collaboration and innovation has also helped us develop new skills in the design of bespoke off-site construction solutions.  Maximising the potential of sustainable construction techniques was also a recurrent theme at the summit and to do this, companies need to see off-site construction as more than just an occasional problem-solving exercise.  We need to invest, innovate and embrace off-site techniques across the supply chain.

Every project can present opportunities for individual members of the construction industry to raise the bar, to work harder and smarter and to find new ways of performing just that little bit better than they did on the last job. If there was one message from the Government Construction Summit that came in louder and clearer than the rest is that as individuals, we all have the potential to make positive changes and collectively, we have the power to drive these changes forward.  As an industry we still may have plenty of ground left to cover but as 2025 draws ever closer, the vision of a new model construction industry is perhaps becoming less of a dream and more of a reality.

*The Government Construction Summit* organised by UBM, publisher of Building Magazine.

Interested in continuing the debate about the industry’s skills shortage?  Take a look at the recent blog by Lakesmere Group marketing and communications manager Mo Morgan on Addressing the building envelope skill shortage 

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1 Comment to “Beyond the summit – putting the Government’s plans into practice”

  1. Iain Kennedy Says:

    I agree that things are slowly improving but among the many factors affecting the rate of improvement is the willingness of both government and private/commercial firms (i.e. UK Plc) to use British companies and British goods or services. Investment in training and sustainable production techniques will only come if the goods and services are in demand enabling investment. As Stone Federation President I am very proud of the efforts many within the industry and coupled with the Masonry colleges have done to further training. We now have many NVQ’s; SVQ’s; SUP’s; Etc in the specialist field of Stone and Masonry. These are also developing all the time with the help and leadership of the NSITG (Natural Stone Industry Training Group). Uptake is not as quick as we would hope but the industry has come through and in many areas is still in a very severe downturn.
    I would concur that change often has to come from within but there needs to be a sound commercial reason to drive that change and British industry and especially the Government has a vital role to play in leading the charge for British products.
    Importing a cheaper; lower specification product is a short term and will only lead to higher long term costs; no training and a non existent UK Plc.
    At Realstone Ltd, a UK SME we train; we retain (some of our workforce have been with us for more than 40 years); we export and soon will have BES6001, so responsible sourcing and Environmental Management are also at the top of our list. And we are not the only ones in the Stone Industry with this sort of ethos.
    The recent ever decreasing circle will become an ever expanding one as higher sales leads to investment and training which leads to lower costs and a better product…with the resulting higher sales..And so it goes on.
    A good article Chris.

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