Rethinking Construction – Again!

The construction industry is currently a turbulent environment! With major Construction and Infrastructure projects in delivery (such as Crossrail, Battersea and the planned expansion of Heathrow airport), an unstable labour market stifling productivity, combined with the slow uptake of technological advances and the unquantifiable impact of Brexit, all adding to the woes of a notoriously challenging business landscape.

Reflecting on Egan’s Rethinking Construction, a lot has improved since this was published in 1998. However, Construction is still an industry dominated by uncertainty and has failed to tackle some of the key issues highlighted in Rethinking Construction, namely Egan’s vision that within 20 years Construction should achieve an annual reduction of 10% in cost and time. Sadly, due to a limited and slow uptake of the recommendations in the Egan report, little progress has been made across the industry and his key recommendations around time and money are still the key two factors affecting the industry today. Although it’s fair to say the industry is now less adversarial, more collaborative and customer-centric than it has ever been.

More recent reports by the likes of Hackett tie in the need for quality; the foundation of which is a skilled workforce. It has been apparent for some time, especially with Brexit around the corner, that the Construction industry has a huge skills shortage. But how do we encourage the future generation to join an industry perceived by many as underperforming and risky? Especially with the fear of technology taking over?

Progression in technology is a significant change in how the Construction industry is operating today. For example, for the Heathrow expansion, a ‘digital twin’ is being built entirely before the actual manufacturing and building begins. The Heathrow expansion will be the first project of this scale to use off-site manufacturing as its primary construction strategy, with the ambition to minimise on-site construction. The desire among Construction clients and professionals to design and fabricate as much as possible in factories before simply assembling on-site continues to grow – the benefits of modular construction techniques and components obvious across quality, cost and time

There continues to be a slow, but upward trend in the use of digital technology, both in the sense of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and artificial intelligence applications, although the industry is not using disruptive technologies as quickly or effectively as many others.

20 years on from Egan’s original report, it still remains the case that 74% of major projects are over budget and 84% are delivered late. Achieving a 50% faster delivery (a current industry target) should not be an impossibility with the right leadership and the drive for change, but it seems that we are still by no means closer to achieving the aims set out by Egan 20 years ago, which begs the question, why?

This all leads back to the point that technology is only ever going to be part of the solution; technology is only as good as the information put into it and the skills of the people using it. In order for the desired change to take place, it’s the culture of the industry which needs to change – and only when a shift in behavioural change starts to be seen, will we begin to do Egan proud.