Paul Groves asks whether the construction industry is really up to the challenge ahead

We are all in the business of making money. There is no point being coy about such things, from construction product manufacturers to magazine and website publishers, we ultimately exist to make money.

No-one has ever suggested we are in a beauty contest, none of us are actively looking to be crowned for our personality or congeniality either (well, not all of us).

But, as we enter 2020 and a new decade, there is no escaping the fact that the wider industry as a whole has been suffering something of an image problem.

From inferior products through to a failure to attract the next generation of skilled workers, the industry certainly has cause to look itself in the mirror and consider what positive changes it could make to improve matters.

Firms must act now and get their houses in order, otherwise they will not be able to do business

Paul Groves Paul Groves Editor of Specification magazine

The Hackitt Report

It was a theme raised by Dame Judith Hackitt from pretty much day one of her Government-supported review of building regulations in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Amongst her many recommendations, one immediately stood out – the need for a major culture change within the industry.

And it is a theme she has continually returned to since her initial recommendations were first published.

It is hard to argue against her assertion. There is undoubtedly a need for the industry to take a long hard looks itself and make changes.

Some of us may make New Year resolutions every January 1 and a few may even keep to them. But long before Grenfell Tower, there was an overwhelming argument for our industry to resolve to pause, take a look at itself and identify ways to make much-needed improvements.

Embrace new technologies

Earlier this month, Dame Judith returned to her culture change theme at The NBS Construction Product Leaders’ Summit in Birmingham.

Urging the audience to continue to look at embracing new technologies in order to make positive changes, she revealed her continued frustration with the lack of progress since the Grenfell fire and underlined that forthcoming regulation would be robust and lead to a radical change in culture and processes – whether we like it or not.

She highlighted that manufacturers will now have to provide data and performance accreditation, use standardised systems and take a more collaborative approach, including adopting a transparent attitude to data sharing.

Of course, many manufacturers are already doing this, but it should be a minimum standard throughout.

“Digital will be the norm”, she explained, which should ensure less product substitution and improved product quality.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to leave the race to the bottom behind and change industry practice for good,” she concluded.

Benefitting all

It is quite a significant resolution that the industry is being asked to make. Yet it is one that will surely ultimately benefit everyone, from manufacturers to architects and specifiers, installers and contractors to the end users.

At the same summit, Richard Waterhouse, CEO of The NBS, said: “It is clear manufacturers, specifiers and construction firms must act now and get their houses in order, otherwise they will not be able to do business.

“There’s a move to consistency and a more structured approach, and manufacturers must seize this opportunity. That way, specifiers can make better decisions based on up-to-date, verifiable product information.

“Let’s take this opportunity to build a safer construction industry.” 

Ambiguous data

The audience also heard from John Carpenter, Associate at architectural practice Allies and Morrison, who said: “Specifiers require highly accurate product descriptions using the most relevant and latest industry standards. We need to be able to compare similar products, and thus product information has to be clear.

“Are we comparing apples with apples or apples with oranges? All too often the product information is unclear and performance data ambiguous.

“This is unnecessary, taking up a huge amount of our time while we try to work out if a product is genuinely compatible and if meets the specification brief. It’s all too easy to see how this can lead to mistakes.”

Clearly, the challenge of change is huge. But the benefits of change are even more significant and far-reaching. There also appears to be a growing recognition that such change is not just inevitable, but highly desirable too.

Is it time we all resolved to work smarter, more positively, more ethically, more considerately, more altruistically?

Or is that still a challenge and a change too far?

Paul Groves is editor of Specification magazine