Show ‘digital leadership’ and work with tech firms, construction execs urged

Senior executives and managers of construction companies need to show digital leadership to underpin greater collaboration and productivity improvements within the sector.

That was a key message from the Future Skills report from the Construction Leadership Council which said that those running companies across clients, contractors, consultants and the supply chain should be committed to resourcing and delivering their projects digitally.

The report says contractors should gear up for the future by employing workers directly, adopting smart construction methods and updating their training. It was published after a consultation with industry bodies, clients, the University of Cambridge, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and construction firms.

The report adds that the delivery of smart construction projects, including using offsite, automation and digital technology requires delivery teams to perform more installation, assembly and coordination activities when compared with the more traditional physical construction approach.

“The future industry will demand digitally literate, multi-skilled, highly-trained installation and assembly technicians. For example, construction managers may be split between factory and site, be required to understand the end-to-end process and use the digital tools that can help them optimise delivery.”

In terms of grasping the digital nettle industry must follow the lead of other sectors, such as medical, and develop collaborative relationships with technology, software and equipment providers to enable fully integrated technical solutions to be developed and deployed with an accompanying upskilling package, urged the report’s authors. They said:

Training bodies should work with industry to create and invest in data sciences training, at all levels, to enhance the sector’s capabilities in systems integration and digitisation.

Training bodies should work with industry to develop a digital literacy framework to address the future needs of the industry.

Professional institutions, training providers and industry should develop and deliver qualifications and mandated continuing professional development activities that accelerate understanding and deployment of digital skills.

The CLC urged the industry to take action as it was on the cusp of “one of the greatest programmes of construction in history”, with a pipeline of more than £600bn of work, but also faced the retirement of 30% of the workforce within the next decade and the end of free movement of workers from the European Union after Brexit.

The CLC’s report called on clients to agree a code of employment with contractors to ensure their workers are directly employed, ensuring it is in the employer’s best interest to train their staff and benefit from improved productivity.

Mark Reynolds, skills workstream lead at the CLC, said: “This important report clearly sets out the challenge the industry and our clients face and the actions that must be taken now to avoid significant skills shortages in the future.

“When we have seen projects with higher levels of direct employment the results are often better, the workforce more engaged and ultimately the client and end users are happier with the final product.”

John O’Connor, Laing O’Rourke’s group commercial director and co-author of the report, said: “We welcome this cross-sector report which details a clear action plan to address our future skills need.

“Ours is a changing industry and we need to attract digitally literate talent into our sector, who are committed to delivering projects in a virtual environment, integrated with an offsite manufacturing-led approach. Positively promoting such skills in our sector will ensure we continue to innovate in a modern and smart construction environment.”

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