What are the key issues that still plague the construction industry when it comes to delivering projects on time and on budget?
Over time and over budget – it’s pretty much the norm for any construction project. In an industry as conservative and resistant to change as construction it’s a situation unlikely to change anytime soon. Or is it?
In 2016 Mark Farmer, author of the report The Farmer review of the UK construction labour model - Modernise or die, in which he said the industry faced “inexorable decline” unless a series of industry ills were tackled. These ills included: low productivity; low predictability; structural fragmentation; leadership fragmentation; low margins, adversarial pricing models and financial fragility; the lack of a collaboration and improvement culture; and a lack of R&D and investment in innovation.
I’m willing to bet that not one of the issues identified by Farmer was a surprise to those involved in the construction sector, any one of which could contribute to a project running over time and over budget.
At the time Farmer suggested that the industry’s ills are linked by one overarching theme: “Fewer people with the right skills, in the right roles, being deployed in the right way”.
The skills shortage is a situation the construction industry has allowed to develop but it is one which it appears to be incapable of resolving. So, just as it did in promoting the uptake of BIM to drive efficiency through the industry, the government has come to construction’s aid - this time with initiative to drive the use of off-site construction.
Offsite generally refers to the completion of elements of a construction project in a factory and then then delivering these pre-assembled elements to site. It is sometimes referred to as prefabrication.
Ostensibly, the government is promoting off site to try to improve the quality of the buildings and infrastructure that it purchases and the timeliness of its delivery. But in promoting the widespread take-up of off-site manufacture the government should also help the industry improve productivity and reduce waste. Off-site will also mean fewer labourers on site and it will enable manufacture to be shifted to areas of the country where skilled labour is available.
In November 2017’s Budget, the Chancellor said there would be a “presumption in favour” of off-site construction by 2019 for five Government departments: the Department for Transport, the Department for Health and Social care, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence. It was an initiative that was further endorsed by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in July 2018, when it also published a report also suggesting that off-site manufacture could offer solutions to many of the construction industry’s problems.
The opportunity to tender for government work, the threat that many more people are leaving the construction industry than are joining it and the additional uncertainty of Brexit may finally provide the impetus needed for the industry to adopt more modern methods of construction. If it does, then perhaps project running over time and over budget may even become the exception rather than the norm - stranger things have happened.