250+ Words

Ahead of the curve: are there better ways to improve productivity?

Houses of Parliament

I would like to share with you my speech from UK Construction Week 2019 on the important topic of productivity in the construction sector…

According to McKinsey the productivity gap is costing the UK construction industry £15 billion per year.

As well as having a productivity issue, we are also in the midst of a housing crisis - the worst in a generation.

Our broken housing market is viewed as one of the greatest barriers to progress by the Government, and they aim to deliver a million new homes by the end of 2020, and a further half a million by 2022.

Technology is viewed as the solution to the productivity challenge, and could also help increase the number of houses built every year and alleviate the housing shortage.

The chief executive of Saint-Gobain in the UK and Ireland, Mike Chaldecott, is leading the innovation in buildings work stream of the CLC, and he has delegated the day-to-day leadership to me.

Our work concentrates on embedding innovative construction techniques, focusing on homes and schools, and increasing the use of Smart Construction. Smart Construction is our vision for how we should be building today, and it combines the use of digital and advanced manufacturing, along with whole life performance and broader sustainability improvements.

We believe that the innovation is already here. We just need to remove the barriers to the wider adoption of these technologies and methods of construction. This will help us increase productivity and build more homes.

We have 5 working groups aiming to remove the major barriers, involving over 100 experts from across government departments and industry.

The Centre of Excellence working group is creating a formal network to share knowledge and best practice on Smart Construction, and to improve collaboration.

The demonstrator projects working group has published an industry dashboard to measure our progress, including measures like the number of homes built per year, the pre-manufactured value (this is a measure indicating the level of offsite manufacturing), and of course, productivity.

The group has also published a simple guide to Smart Construction and a number of case studies.

Please use the metrics on your own housing projects and contact us if you have any Smart Construction case studies of your own.

The demand working group has published its recommendations in a report. They are focusing on aggregating demand, creating long term strategic partnerships, standardisation, and improving procurement models.

We have also been supporting the housing minister’s modern methods of construction (MMC) working group, led by Mark Farmer. This addresses risk for mortgage companies and insurers, and aims to establish a common quality assurance framework for homes built using modern methods of construction.

We are also in the process of setting up a new working group focusing on school buildings - let us know if you wish to get involved.

Further information on all of our work so far can be found on the CLC website.

Productivity is essentially a measure of efficiency (output per person), so it goes without saying that the wellbeing of people is a key factor.

The solution lies not only in how we build, but also in what we build. We spend 90% of our time indoors on average, so improving the indoor environment in our homes and workplaces can help improve the health and wellbeing of the occupants and, therefore, their productivity.

We know that temperature, daylight, noise and air quality can all have an impact on office productivity and educational performance as well as health and wellbeing. Even minor details like the colour of the paint we use can impact how we feel.

Saint-Gobain is a sponsor of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings. Its recently published White Paper lays out recommendations to Government and industry for delivering improved health and wellbeing via our homes and buildings.

Wellbeing of the construction workforce is also vital. While lots of effort has gone into improving safety over the years, the construction sector has a very poor record on mental health, with more suicides in construction than any other industry. Much more needs to be done! And let’s face it, we could all benefit from a better work/life balance.

According to the CBI, raising the average quality of people management in UK firms by just 7% has the potential to add a massive £110 billion to the economy[i]. How we manage people is so important.

To deliver all of this change we need the skills: a workforce with competency in delivering Smart Construction and whole house retrofits, with knowledge of building physics and designing for health and wellbeing.

And finally, diversity. Are women more productive than men? According to research by Hive, women work 10% harder than men in today’s offices (despite the chatting). I’m not at all suggesting this is the real situation, and there is also data showing that men are more productive, but we do need to improve the diversity of the construction workforce. It is necessary for effective innovation, which is a solution to improved productivity.

Lastly, I would argue that we shouldn’t simply be questioning ‘are there better ways to improve productivity?’, but taking immediate action to collaboratively address the challenges we face today by adopting Smart Construction and putting wellbeing at the heart of building design and construction.

[i] CBI: Great job: Solving the productivity puzzle through the power of people. https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/2717/2019-05_great-job-full-report.pdf

Jade Lewis
Jade Lewis Director of Advocacy
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