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Industry leaders unite to discuss the future of construction

Skills shortages, planning restrictions and the need for cultural change were the key topics arising from a high level debate attended by leading voices from around the industry, as UK Construction Week’s expert advisory panel met for the first time.

With momentum behind the exhibition building exponentially, the advisory panel brings together a team of motivated and inspirational figures from across the world of architecture, construction and politics to discuss their insights and ambitions to help shape the future of the show. This valuable input will drive the seminar content creation, ensuring it delivers a programme of relevant and heartfelt material that truly hits the mark.

Drawing on the panel members’ shared commitment to promoting construction growth, the passionate discussion revealed a strong sense that UK Construction Week has arrived at a crucial time for the industry – with well-known TV presenter and architect George Clarke remarking that: “We need a cultural shift in how we deliver construction in the next five years.”

Perhaps the strongest message to come out of the debate was the urgent need to tackle skills shortages and attract more young people into construction. Dr David Hancock, Head of Construction at the Cabinet Office, argued that now is the time to invest in up-skilling young people as there is £125 billion of public sector and infrastructure projects in the pipeline, which will require a ready and well-trained workforce.

Bridget Bartlett, Deputy Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) said: “If the industry is to undergo a cultural shift then diversity must be a crucial tenet of this change. For example, women account for only 11 per cent of the construction workforce – and just 1 per cent of workers on site. The industry must collaborate to improve access to careers in construction, to include more women as well as other traditionally under-represented groups. Construction provides a wide range of opportunities for those from all walks of life.”

Yet as Mark Clare, CEO of Barratt Developments pointed out, perhaps the answer lies not just in recruitment but in “building more with less people,” through off-site and industrialised construction processes – particularly if the industry is to meet the proposed target of 200,000 new homes a year.

John Tutte, CEO of Redrow, went on to develop this idea further, pointing to an industrialised and process driven house building industry of the future, where lessons can be learned from the automotive industry. In this vision, a different skill set will be required from the new generation of construction workers – perhaps taking on a more generalised ‘service installer’ role, rather than traditional plumbing or electrician trades.

While the general consensus seemed to be that a move towards a more manufacturing-based approach is key to the industry’s future success, the panel also highlighted that this will require greater flexibility from local authorities that tend to veer away from standardised construction methods. This sentiment was echoed across the panel, with many participants pointing to the restrictive nature of modern town planning – which has turned planners into “the traffic wardens of the built environment,” as Sir Terry Farrell, founder of Farrells architecture practice, put it.

Concluding that UK Construction Week will provide an indispensible space for the industry to unite, at a time when this joined-up approach is most needed, the advisory committee will be meeting again at the show to help steer and shape the future of construction.

Richard Morey, Group Event Director at Media 10, the company behind UK Construction Week, commented: “It was a privilege to take part in this debate and to be joined by so many leading figures. Hearing them talk so passionately about the need for the industry to work towards a new future was really inspirational and certainly confirms our belief that the time is right for an event that brings the whole sector together.

“Our task now is to take the crucial feedback and insight we have gleaned from this panel meeting and translate that into the seminar programme for the show – this process is well underway and we are confident the event will deliver a schedule of content that is absolutely on the money for the current industry climate.”

Taking place at the Birmingham NEC from 6 – 8 October, UK Construction Week combines nine shows under one roof, uniting 1,000 exhibitors with an expected audience of 55,000 visitors. Visitors will be able to attend the Build Show incorporating Civils Expo, Timber Expo, the Surface and Materials Show, Energy 2015, Kitchens & Bathroom Live, Plant & Machinery Live, HVAC 2015, Smart Buildings 2015 and Grand Designs Live.