“We need to stop replicating the pejorative views of the industry that have been repeated too often in the past” said Raynsford.
“Go back fifteen years and I think to an extent the bad reputation of the industry was justified. When you then fast forward and look at more recent experiences, it is far more positive. There is a terrible time lag.”
Peter Jacobs, president of the
Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)until June 2014, noted that it was still not uncommon for school children to be told they would end up working on a construction site if they failed at school.
Brian Green, an analyst and commentator on construction, criticised the constant reports and strategies branding the construction industry needing an image change, arguing instead that a more positive outlook is needed.
The UK construction industry is also punching massively above its weight internationally, Raynsford noted, with hugely successful UK work going on all over the world.
The industry had to get better at training and developing the people needed in the future, he stressed. “The industry needs to know how to cope with an expanding programme of work whilst lacking the necessary skills base.”
He noted the CIOB’s call for a specific skills summit to be held before the end of the year to give an industry lead to tackle this skills deficit. Raynsford pointed to how a similar summit had been held to tackle health and safety in the industry, and the resulting action made the UK a world leader in health and safety. This demonstrated that it was to achieve “very, very considerable advances” in the industry when an issue was fully recognised and focused on.
Jacobs said the construction industry “is currently changing faster than it has changed at any point in my forty year career working in the industry.”
The industry is widespread, flexible, and crucial to the economy, he said. However, it is also a “many-headed, diverse and fragmented monster”, and does require a focus.
Green noted that, due to the ubiquitous and everyday nature of construction, the economic value of built environment is often undervalued. The CIOB’s recent Real Face of Construction report demonstrated how the construction industry does actually “sprinkle magic” on the economy as a whole, he said.
“Construction enhances the value of location” he explained, giving the example of the value and benefit of a bridge being far higher than the original cost of building the bridge.
Green spoke about the social good that the industry did, explaining how there had been a massive decline in manual jobs in the last 20 years, meaning construction was becoming one of the main industries to provide non-academic careers. Construction work could provide a level of pastoral care for young people that other industries would struggle to provide, as well as being a platform for enterprising and entrepreneurial individuals, he said.
A member of the audience from the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT) asked how more young people could be attracted into the industry through apprenticeships and training roles.
Raynsford agreed that the industry is currently viewed widely because it is seen as a “downbeat, dirty job”, whereas the reality is that it is a hugely diverse industry with a wide range of routes into it. A key point was to get information about the industry across to schools far better than it had been done in the past, he believed.
“We really do have to do much more to think about the processes of how to attract people into the industry” said Raynsford, highlighting some of the issues with modern apprenticeships.
“We have not found the right way to relate modern apprenticeships to the jobs that are often becoming available.”
It was too brief for apprentices if developments were only short term, lasting 18 months or so, he said. “We haven’t been as clever as we should be about how to link different construction projects with apprenticeships that can be carried forward.”
Green spoke about the opportunity that exists for the UK to become a global hub of expertise in the construction industry. This needs “political attention”, he stated.
A civil engineer in the audience noted the blacklisting of workers who raised health and safety issues, noting the negative atmosphere this had created in the industry. She also pointed to the underrepresentation of women in construction.
Jacobs said the London Olympics been very successful in how empowered the construction workforce felt on whistleblowing, saying this culture had derived from a commitment “right at the top”.
The CIOB is hosting fringe events on the economic value of the construction industry at all three main party conferences.
Find details of these at the bottom of this page