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Above and beyond

As I write this blog in mid-December 2020, patients in the UK are receiving the very first COVID-19 vaccines. Perhaps the end is finally in sight.

Construction Enquirer reports that news of the vaccination programme triggered a number of new contract announcements – including a £100 million apartment complex in London.

Of course, many people in the construction industry have been working throughout the pandemic. And those who kept our most important buildings, such as hospitals, operating safely deserve every recognition for their determination.

But now we can look to 2021 with a greater sense of hope. If I had a theme for the construction sector’s New Year resolutions, it would be ‘Above and beyond’. Next year, and probably the next five years after that, should be about aiming higher in many aspects of the industry’s work.

My last Hub blog looked at the upcoming Building Safety Bill. It specifically focuses on making everyone in the construction supply chain responsible for safe outcomes. And the Bill’s remit is wide, with a new Regulator and an Inspector in place to enforce not only the word, but also the spirit, of the law.

The industry’s 2021 resolution should be to embrace this Bill as an opportunity to improve practices that will benefit everyone; to go above and beyond business as usual. Instead of post-project blame-storming, we could have a construction process that results in better buildings, less litigation and improved working practices. Dame Judith Hackitt has said that those companies that seize the opportunity will be recognised for their ‘leadership’.

This leads onto a second resolution, which is to recognise the role that buildings can play in mitigating against climate change. As David Frise, chief executive of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has said, “Safe buildings are also going to be more sustainable.”

Part L is due to be updated ‘soon’, and will reflect government’s net zero carbon goals. But we all know that Building Regulations are often the lowest common denominator. And here the industry certainly can go above and beyond. The technology to achieve lower-carbon, energy efficient buildings is available. But as a sector, we need to encourage clients to focus on long-term outcomes, not short-term costs.

No one said it would be easy, but it absolutely has to be done. More and more businesses are signing up to carbon-cutting goals. I think clients will be more willing than ever to listen to advice on improving the energy performance of their existing buildings and the design of new ones.

And the third resolution for the industry should be around training and competence. The Building Safety Bill will be a key influence here too. If main contractors are answerable to an Inspector and Regulator for the outcomes of buildings, they will want to know that sub-contractors and specialists are competent. This means being able to prove competence, which must be backed by training and accreditation.

In an industry where margins are always tight, a training budget can be hard to find. But here again, the industry needs to go above and beyond. As well as consolidating existing skills, there is a host of new technologies to learn.

The recently launched Government Construction Playbook* says that the aim is: “Driving better, faster, greener delivery” of government construction projects. That means greater use of digital technologies, BIM and modern methods of construction.

For managers and owners of businesses in our sector, that should be a sign that 2021 could be the year to gain a better understanding of how all this works. And to ensure that your team’s accreditations, certifications and qualifications are up to date.

Few of us are the same coming out of 2020 as we were going in. But in that time, many businesses have faced the challenge and met it by being flexible and resilient. Look how quickly building sites adopted new ways of working safely.

If nothing else, 2020 has proved that the construction sector can change when it needs to. That should be something to take forward into 2021, because the challenges are not going to stop on December 31st.

* Government Construction Playbook:

Note: This guest blog appeared on the Mitsubishi Electric Hub in January 2021

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