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March Overview – Mary Bennell

Why getting more people into the construction industry and innovation leading to increased productivity is more important new than ever before .

It was 7 years ago that Sir Mark Farmer published his report ‘Modernise or Die’ in which he predicted a perfect storm in the construction sector due to lack of labour and falling productivity in the construction sector and made an urgent call to the industry to address these issues through improved training and the adoption of modern methods of construction and industrialised techniques( Don’t forget Sir John Egan ) .

Was this call noted? Has there been a step change in the industries’ approach to training and efforts to improve productivity and adopt an industrialised approach to delivery of construction projects? In an article published in Construction Manager in 2021, ‘Five years on from Modernise or Die, where are we now?’ Mark Farmer wrote: “In the years since I published the Farmer Review, lots has happened and I take heart that we have stirrings finally within industry that all is not well under the bonnet, combined with clear evidence that some businesses are pivoting to different models to secure their future.”

Here we are at the beginning of 2023 and there is even more urgency to address the issues identified in 2016, due to changed circumstances and where we find ourselves nationally and regionally .

Labour shortages

The labour shortages remain we currently have an estimated 250,000 construction vacancies nationally. 250,000 or 16 % of the workforce are in the 50 -59 age bracket and will have retired in 10 years time.

The number of construction apprenticeship starts in 21 /22 was approximately 37, 000!


Inflation in the UK is now over 10 % and the construction materials price index is as at the end of 2022 at about 138 against a base of 100 in 2015 with the index jumping approximately 23 points since 2021 .

Innovation and increasing productivity

Whilst there have been considerable efforts and encouragement in creating a pipeline of work for offsite manufacture in the residential sector the supply chain remains vary volatile with a number of significant suppliers going into administration and smaller companies just about surviving

So where should we as Constructing Excellence South West be focusing our efforts over the next couple of years .

What can we in CESW do in our local branches and theme groups? :

Improve the supply of labour by supporting initiatives to encourage people into the sector. We can do this by promoting contruction a sa career in schoold and colleges – making the

students and their teachers understand that construction is not about standing around in muddy fields or charging around the countryside in white vans.

Supporting relevant and much needed training schemes being developed by local colleges – Exeter colleges retrofit training centre is a great example

A number of local branches have held days for school students. Devon branch held and the inaugural ‘Battle of the Builds’ showcasing the industry to year 10 and college students which was a great success involving our members competing for the top prize as voted for by the pupils.

A new Future Skills Theme Group has been set up dedicated to the acceleration of construction skills with with the common goal of the cause for growth and encouragement of the next generation.

The plan is to hold a Building a Better Tomorrow event in the Autumn of 2023 : This aims to be a large event to increase engagement with the younger generation, a collaboration of education and industry to organise an up-scale event to attract a large number of schools in the south west region,

Supporting and promoting innovative products and processes to increase productivity and support the decarbonising agenda

The Smart Construction Theme Group of which I am Chair, has provided a forum for members to discuss ,visit and learn form experts in the field who are promoting innovative products and systems. We hope to encourage encouraging commissioners /clients to work with contractors and suppliers of all sizes to adopt innovative approaches .

On Wednesday 1st March the CESW Smart construction Theme group organised an online elevator pitch event . It gave 9 companies to opportunity to provide a summary of their innovative product or service and to explain the benefits of what they were doing . The pitchers are all to be congratulated for promoting their products and ideas and to trying to improve how we deliver and maintain homes / offices and other buildings using highly sophisticate and energy efficient methods.

We will continue visiting sites /factories of interest, holding webinars and maybe another elevator pitch this year.

Finally I would like to encourage all current and future members to get involved in the work of our local and theme groups . Whilst the problems in the industry are on a national scale there is plenty we can do on an individual and regional scale to improve matters

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