“Manufacturing cannot exist without digital – it goes hand in hand.”

Earlier this year, Construction News hosted a live webinar Transforming Construction Operations & Upskilling the Workforce, exploring how the industry can embrace a more digital, flexible and collaborative future for construction. Editor of Construction News Lem Bingley moderated a panel of industry innovators including Nick Nieder, Director of Product Management at Deltek; Craig Finn, Head of Pre-Construction at Henry Boot Construction; David Hancock, Construction Director at IPA; and Lydia Walpole, Digital Operations & Performance Director at Costain.

Craig Finn spoke of the need for agility on the ground and across the entire supply chain. Practical solutions around reducing touchpoints and ensuring social distancing have opened the door to a host of other tech solutions, both on and off site over the past year. The ongoing challenge will be to enable remote engagement and collaboration between teams without any loss in value.

According to Finn, the outbreak of Covid-19 and the urgent rollout out of pandemic-responsive solutions have pushed the construction industry up to five years ahead in terms of digital adoption than might otherwise have occurred. 

Online meetings, data sharing, design progression and visualisations have been made possible by very intuitive technology that requires minimal training and this has benefited the construction industry enormously. This progression will certainly continue and likely accelerate.

Another issue discussed was uncertainty, whether caused by the pandemic, Brexit or other factors. This uncertainty is driving project owners towards solutions that  provide the greatest degree of certainty in terms of programme.

The panel appear to agree that the traditional industry has reached a “turning point” or inflection point and understand their ability to endure and survive the current environment relies on embracing new technologies, including modern methods of construction. Investment resilience is a key driver of this.

David Hancock, who is a member of the CLC membership council, spoke about the role collaboration has played for the industry in dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Interestingly, he also noted that the delivery of MMC building projects during this period was less impacted than traditional projects, citing UK prisons projects as an example of this.

Factories were able to continue operating to a greater extent than traditional construction sites were as the latter found ensuring social distancing more challenging on a day-to-day basis. Hancock pointed out that one of the important learnings of the past 15 months has been that the systems to support digital adoption and MMC across the construction ecosystem are still lacking.  He urged greater standardisation as the route to consistent quality. 

“Manufacturing cannot exist without digital – it goes hand in hand.”

Lydia Walpole credits the pandemic with “forcing” the industry to think more innovatively and this is transforming how businesses are operating.  

Nick Nieder spoke of the competitive edge to be gained through digitally-enabled processes and operational efficiencies.  He explained that the industry approach of training and enabling people to be digitally savvy is no longer sustainable; instead, organisations need to transform themselves into “a home for digital natives” in order to attract the right talent and this starts by communicating what working in the modern construction industry looks like. It is not simply about “white van man” anymore.

Technology has the potential to broaden the appeal of construction and engineering to a more digitally-focused generation and this is expected to improve diversity across the industry. While attracting new talent and skillsets is a big part of this. It was remarked that strategy is unlikely to overcome culture, there is little point in putting a hiring strategy in place to attract digital talent if the organisational culture does not support it internally. Enhancing the image of construction as an exciting, creative career opportunity will be critical going forward. Offsite construction and other modern methods of construction offer new ways to develop people throughout various stages of their careers and this is a message that we, as an industry, need to be sharing.

About Horizon Offsite

Horizon Offsite Ltd is one of Europe’s leading players in Offsite Construction and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), providing a fully accredited structural light gauge steel system to the residential, industrial, commercial, healthcare and educational sectors. Contact the Horizon Offsite team at https://www.horizonoffsite.ie