News Round-Up: February 2010

12 February 2010

Diversity needs more work

Bovis Lend Lease, building repair and maintenance firm Mears Group and Kier Building Maintenance have become the first construction companies to sign up to campaign group Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, a forum that promotes lesbian, gay and bisexual equality at work, writes Stephen Cousins.

But their statement of support for a diverse workplace contrasts with Stonewall’s latest annual list of top 100 employers. Based on submissions from more than 350 UK firms and feedback from their lesbian, gay and bisexual staff, the Workplace Equality Index includes many “traditional” employers such as the armed forces, the police, and the fire service, but not a single construction company. IBM ranked top, followed by Hampshire Constabulary, and Ernst & Young in third place.

David Shields, director of workplace programmes at Stonewall, says that construction’s failure to create a gay-friendly working environment could be undermining its productivity. ‘It appears construction hasn’t yet appreciated the link between equality and performance. Our research shows that people perform better when they can be themselves at work. It’s no coincidence that the most successful employers in our index enjoy business success generally.”

Diversity Champion Mears Group will be able to access advice on workplace equality and will be included in a recruitment guide distributed to every UK university, college and secondary school.

Ken Mantock, the firm’s director of communities, is encouraging other construction firms to sign up as Diversity Champions. “It’s a natural step that should be taken by any responsible organisation,” he says. “Stonewall is helping us review our current attitudes and assess how they can be improved to meet best practice. It’s important to make inroads because the new Equality Bill is likely to increase employers’ obligations.

“I suspect there are many companies that want to do the right thing, but they are held back because no one else is doing it,” he added. “But historically the British people have always lived in diverse communities, it’s just a case of acknowledging it.”

Meanwhile, a Construction Industry Council report paints a worrying picture of women’s experiences in the industry. It found that the number of female staff in construction has improved by just 1% in three years, and women now account for only 23% of the UK’s 270,000-strong workforce.

The report has recommendations that include: creating a gender balance among teams and networks to improve innovation; adopting flexible working strategies; and creating more inclusive cultures with fair policies on recruitment, promotion and pay.

And the Equality and Human Right Commission has followed up last July’s report on racial discrimination in construction with two roundtable meetings. The EHRC is now finalising an action plan for publication in the spring.

Mike Farrar, Construction Skills

Q&A: Mike Farrar

Mike Farrar is chief executive of ConstructionSkills, which recently published the annual employment forecast from the ConstructionSkills Network. It foresees more job cuts in 2010 and only a modest recovery between 2011 and 2014.

What are the employment prospects for construction?

Our latest figures show that construction output contracted by 13% in 2009 and employment dropped by 375,000 workers between 2008 and 2010. We expect a further contraction of 1% in 2010 before recovery begins in 2011, but it is likely to be slow with average growth of 1.7% between 2010 and 2014.

So the worst is over, but job losses will continue?

Unfortunately, yes. A recovery in output will not immediately mean a rise in employment and job losses are unlikely to bottom out until 2011. One factor is the time lag across different sectors, for example the effects of the recession happening far sooner for groundworkers than those involved in fit-out.

Do continued job losses reduce the need for skills and training?

The industry cannot afford to be complacent about investing in skills. The need to reduce carbon in new and existing buildings creates a demand for new skills for new entrants and the existing workforce. Also, large numbers are set to retire in the next 10 years. We need to maintain the flow of apprentices and graduates and upgrade the skills of as many existing workers as possible.

The industry is braced for public spending cuts. What is your view?

Construction supports some 8% of GDP and provides employment for large numbers of graduates and apprentices, so stability in levels of long-term investment is critical in protecting employment and skills.

As the public sector accounts for 30% of the industry’s business, and that’s excluding PFI, expenditure needs to be maintained far beyond the general election until the private sector fully recovers.

But we’re pleased that skills is becoming a priority for the government. The Skills White Paper published at the end of last year has called for skills funding to be focused on high-value sectors that will drive economic growth.

Footballers’ lives: If you’re hiking across the Pennines near Bolton, watch out for what looks like a clover-shaped archaeological feature. It’s the visible portion of a subterranean eco-house designed by Make Architects for England and Manchester United

Employer’s failing to engage staff

The UK may have officially emerged from recession and construction job losses are slowing, but construction staff are still at risk from the negative effects of the downturn and lack of employee engagement. Those are the conclusions of two pieces of research published last month by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Its quarterly Employee Outlook survey is compiled from 2000 questionnaire responses, including 148 from construction employees. Average national job satisfaction levels are at their lowest since the survey began a year ago, and 29% reported a worsening of of their standard of living in the past six months.

In construction, job satisfaction is actually above the national average, but perceived standards of living are below, with 31% saying this had worsened in the past six months. And just 47% of construction employees said they were likely to recommend their organisation as an employer, compared with the national average of 51%.

Claire McCartney, organisation and resourcing adviser at the CIPD, says that construction firms should try to boost morale. “Greater opportunities for interesting work, coaching and mentoring should help here. Employers should also identify ways of increasing trust in senior leaders and creating opportunities for employee consultation and voice in the workplace.”

Raising levels of employee engagement could help, according to a CIPD report compiled by a Kingston University team. It draws on input from several companies across the UK economy, including a construction firm headquartered in Camden, north London. The report showed that engaged employees perform better, are more innovative in their approach and more likely to stay with an employer.

Mike Emmett, a CIPD employee relations adviser, says that the construction company studied by the Kingston researchers was “very impressive”.

“Its senior managers are very energised and people management is high on their list, they want to train people and get the best out of them. They get the basics right – what we call “line of sight”, so staff know what they are trying to achieve and their significance to the organisation.”

The reported identified “employee voice”, or having the opportunity to discuss work-related matters and give opinions on aspects of their job, as a strong factor in employee engagement. Currently just 34% of the nation’s employees are “vocally involved”.

Job hunting? Thinking about it? Then look out for the CIOB and Atom Publishing’s new website, launched this spring. 

Definition on website this month

The draft of a new multi-part definition of construction management that will help to define education curricula and future CIOB initiatives is due to be published on the Institute’s website this month.

If approved by the CIOB Trustees, the definition will be published to give members a final opportunity to comment on both the wording and the ideas behind it.

It has been drafted by Professor John Bale (right), a past president of the CIOB, on the initiative of current president Professor Li Shirong.

“I feel we’ve got something that’s going to prove useful,” says Bale, professor emeritus at Leeds Metropolitan University. “The definition is inclusive and includes a number of key points.”

The definition is built up from phrases that describe how construction management is exercised in different settings, covers projects from inception to recycling, includes distinct services and disciplines, is characterised by sustainable thinking, and supported by an academic community. 

Bale says each of the phrases provides a platform for further CIOB initiatives: “Each of the points is a base on which we can build, for instance in our work on training or developing codes of practice.”

Month in numbers

4 The number of nuclear power stations EDF plans to have completed in the UK by 2025, starting with Hinkley Point in Somerset later this year.

33 The percentage of SME builders that expect to make redundancies in the first quarter of 2010, according to a Federation of Master Builders survey.

36 The number of model zero-carbon schools to be built in England by 2016 under new proposals.

76 The percentage of British construction workers employed on the 2012 Olympics development. Of the rest, 6% are Irish, 3% Romanian, 2% Lithuanian, 2% Nepalese, 2% Indian and 1% Polish.

2,500 The number of fabricated steel sections in the structure of the £80m London 2012 velodrome. The steel structure, supplied by Watson Steel, is now complete.

560,000 The number of affordable homes that may never be built due to spending cuts, according to the  National Housing Federation analysis.

Zedfactory will build two zero-carbon mixed-use buildings with a street between them to demonstrate a Chinese development of the future

UK firms set to shine at Shanghai event

Construction companies exploring low-carbon technology or based in the north-west are being invited to travel to China to take part in the Shanghai Expo, the so-called “business Olympics”, which takes place between 1 May and 31 October 2010.

As well as the official UK Pavilion, supported by the British Council and UK Trade and Investment, the UK will be represented by an exhibition area promoting Liverpool Vision and the north-west, and a complex of mixed-use zero-carbon buildings by architect Zedfactory.

UKTI is planning to make further announcements this month about the themed programme for the UK Pavilion, including opportunities for construction firms to showcase their
skills or sponsor events.

Zedfactory will be taking its BedZed concept to Shanghai, building two demonstration zero-energy buildings and the streetscape between them as a vision of a mixed-use Chinese street of the future. The buildings will remain after the Expo as a permanent legacy.

All the low-cost innovative components used in the buildings, which have ground floor shops topped by flats, have been sourced in China, where Zedfactory has established a supply chain.

Zedfactory founder Bill Dunster said: “With China building an area the size of London each year, we believe that the Zedfactory model of international collaboration with local industrial production to deliver workable zero-carbon projects is more important than the current focus on large, infrastructure-heavy eco-city projects that require excessive upfront investment.”

The 2,400m2 Zedfactory complex will also include a lecture theatre and a cafe supplied by local organic farms. Planned events include lectures, seminars and a climate change art festival.

Designers, architects and construction companies wishing to contribute material or projects displaying world-class low-carbon technologies should email Bill Dunster at [email protected].

Meanwhile, Liverpool Vision will share an exhibition pavilion with six other city regions, including Venice and Cairo. Its presence in Shanghai is being funded by a grant from the North West Development Agency and corporate sponsorship.

Jonathan Caswell, Liverpool Vision’s head of public relations, said: “If we want to prove our ambition and come out on the other side of the global downturn, we have to engage with the world’s emerging markets.”

The organisation is also inviting construction companies based in the north-west to get involved. More information on sponsorship packages is available from Ailsa Horne at [email protected] or at

CIOB China will also be present at the Expo and plans to organise the Shanghai International Construction Summit at the end of June 2010 with a theme of green building, sustainability and construction management.

According to China regional manager Bryan He, the summit aims to draw 75% of its audience from Chinese members, and 25% from the international construction community.

The £13.2m six-storey UK Pavilion is designed by Thomas Heatherwick and construction-managed by Mace.

Morrell in Ecobuild debate on sustainability education

Ecobuild will be the backdrop to a high-profile CIOB debate on the best way to ensure construction courses give their graduates the in-depth understanding of sustainability the industry will need in the coming decades.

A panel discussion featuring the government’s new chief construction adviser Paul Morrell will also draw on the results of an online poll of CIOB student members.

Morrell will be joined on the panel by CIOB President Li Shirong, deputy chief executive Michael Brown, Miller Homes director Stephen Wielebski MCIOB, student member James Anwyl, and Dr Jacqui Glass of the University of Loughborough.

Glass told CM that the issue is not the lack of sustainability modules in today’s courses, but the challenges raised by the complexity of the subject.

“Sustainability has been embedded in our courses for the past 10 years, and the basic knowledge the students get is welcomed when they join the industry,” said Glass. “But the issue is congestion in the curriculum – we have to balance it to make sure students get the full range of knowledge.

“Then there’s the question of staff expertise. If it’s going to be taught effectively, you need knowledgeable teachers. A materials lecturer might be interested in the subject but not have had structured training, so do staff need more in-house training?”

Loughborough runs CIOB-accredited construction management courses at undergraduate and post-graduate level, and a design management undergraduate programme. But while Glass believes that students on these courses have a good grounding in green issues, she concedes that the content of the QS and civils courses “might be a bit patchy”.

Research highlights failings in SWMPs

Site waste management plans are proving ineffective at delivering a step-change in minimising construction waste, according to research by 2009 Sir Ian Dixon scholar Tom Baldwin ICIOB.

SWMPs are mandatory on all projects valued over £300,000. The regulations require an action plan to be drawn up and enforced on site.

In his survey of 69 main contractors, subcontractors, clients, designers and planners, Baldwin found that 87% thought the design team was responsible for the SWMP during design, even though it is the client and main contractor that have responsibility in law.

Meanwhile, 29% named CDM co-ordinators and 23% named local authorities. In fact, CDM co-ordinators have no role in SWMPs, and local authorities enforce the regulations.

Meanwhile, fellow scholar Steven Sanzone ICIOB polled 190 people on the impact of an organisation’s culture on musculoskeletal disorders linked to manual handling (see p53). 

Bridget Boreham

Now more than ever we need to invest in training

The CIOB has always provided opportunity for individuals to realise their full academic and professional potential. That’s important for them, and vital for an industry which must maximise the competence and efficiency of its existing workforce. Creating and inspiring an industry in which excellence prospers is key to producing the best buildings, fit for society’s needs.

It is widely recognised that construction is a people industry. Other sectors may make similar claims, but for us our most vital resource really is the people who make up our industry. That is why it is so important to invest in them and continually develop their skills.

The reduction in government funding of education and training is impacting on our industry at all levels, from craft apprenticeships to post graduate students in higher education. At a time when the industry needs to be prepared with a skilled workforce and competent management to meet the challenge of coming out of recession quickly, there is less cash to support learning.

ConstructionSkills faces a £10m deficit, further education colleges face a 3.5% funding reduction and higher education, for the first time, faces cuts of 12% and efficiency measures. Private training providers are facing meltdown as the government’s Train to Gain programme for adults in employment is cut by 3%. Numbers of full-time 16-19-year-old learners have increased as young people shelter in education until the job market looks more promising – and this has put increasing strain on the public purse.

Despite the reduction in government funding to support training, our industry needs to contemplate the cost of NOT training. 

The construction industry has always had a short-term strategy, training “just in time” to meet needs. This approach has left us with skills shortages and reliance on overseas labour markets. The industry must now invest, take a long-term view and be prepared to develop long-term training and development plans for its workforce if we want to attract and retain the brightest and the best. Otherwise, where will the future managers and leaders of industry come from?

Bridget Boreham is chief operating officer of the CIOB.

Chief executive Chris Blythe is on holiday.


Please note that the comment above quoted from myself, relating to the sustainability teaching on QS and Civil engineering programmes is a personal observation, based on courses and professional curricula in general in the UK at the current time. My comments are in no way a reflection of the quality of the QS and Civils programmes offered at Loughborough University and should not be taken as such.
Thank you.
Dr Jacqui Glass

Dr Jacqui Glass, 17 February 2010

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