How businesses can transform the UK's falling productivity levels

Posted On: 
18th February 2019

The UK & Europe CEO of one of the world’s most respected design, engineering and project management consultancies, reflects on falling UK productivity and how to address the decline.

Credit: 
Atkins
When I read last quarter’s productivity figures my heart sank. UK productivity has decreased; again. Our industry is patently aware of this issue – so why haven’t we fixed it? 
 
In short, this isn’t something we can address under BAU. It has to be at the top of our agenda, and while we’ve all been focused on delivering major projects and navigating the uncertainty of Brexit, it has, in some cases, fallen to the bottom. 
 
If we’re serious about tackling productivity, we need to focus on the areas that will have a transformational effect on how we perform. I’ve put some ideas under six headings below, which capture how we can become a more productive industry – I’ll be talking about each of these in more detail throughout the year. 
 
Use technology, but focus on outcomes
The industry needs to navigate an increasingly digital world. Most importantly, we need to make the best use of technology to deliver tangible, lasting and enriched outcomes for organisations and their stakeholders. We can deliver better outcomes if we use technology in the right way, as we’ve seen with the Passenger Authentication Scanning System at Heathrow Airport and improvements in passenger experience. 
 
Improve our own design processes
In the face of the fourth industrial revolution, with blurred lines between our physical and digital worlds, we know we can’t keep working in the same way. Changing the way we work – whether that’s using Building Information Modelling, automation, blockchain or artificial intelligence – is the only way to deliver the efficiencies needed to make a step change in productivity. We’re already making headway; for example, the 3D reinforced concrete model and control room modelling we’ve done for Hinkley Point C is helping to make the project safer and quicker to build.
 
Find new ways to deliver
Technology isn’t just key to how we work, but to how we deliver our projects. Modern Methods of Construction are revolutionising infrastructure delivery. We have clients looking for us to halve the cost of delivering their infrastructure – we can’t do this without looking beyond traditional delivery methods. Our housing solution, MetroHome, is putting this into practice by helping councils use their land and Modern Methods of Construction for the development of quality, affordable housing.
 
Put together more diverse teams
We’ve talked about the skills shortages in engineering for a while now, and we know how important it is to attract the best talent to deliver major infrastructure projects. For me, this is about diversity and inclusion as much as it is about recruitment. With the right mix of people around the table, we can come up with new ideas that will transform the way we do things. This is being led by the industry as much as it by our clients; we were one of the first companies to sign up to “Birmingham’s Business Charter for Social Responsibility”, a promise to recruit locally thereby driving diversity into our recruitment and engagement with communities.
 
Transform our capability
To achieve what I’ve set out above, we need the right skills in our industry. Not only must we work harder to address the skills shortage, we must also equip our people with the skills they need to be more productive. Whether it’s coding or data management, we need to develop our people for the future. This is also about recruiting different kinds of people, with different skills, into our business; for example, as Gold Award Holders of the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme for serving or former members of the Armed Forces, we are committed to nurturing the valuable perspective and new approaches these individuals bring. 
 
Win hearts & minds 
For me, this is absolutely critical. It’s about making sure everyone sees their role in improving productivity. 
 
As a member of the Infrastructure Exports UK Board, I’ve been pushing for the construction industry to form a new ‘Team GB’ – a high performing team, with pride in what we do, and the desire to perform better on the world stage. We have excellent design and engineering skills in the UK – in aviation, rail, digital engineering and more – that we can take around the world. The Rail Sector Deal, for example, sets out a vision to work more collaboratively as an industry to export UK rail expertise overseas. 
 
I want everyone in our industry to play a part in this transformation. It’s essential that we all work together, and towards the same outcomes, if we are going to be a more productive industry. I want us all to be able to look back at the end of 2019 and be proud of what we’ve achieved together. 
 
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHoare to keep up with my thoughts on the six areas mentioned above.