BESA president Tim Hopkinson calls for embracing of offsite construction and digital procurement
Tim Hopkinson, president of BESA (the Building Engineering Services Association) has warned that major construction and infrastructure projects will not be delivered unless the industry embraces more modern methods of working. Employers have ’no option. but to move with the times and embrace new techniques, he said.
He told the audience at the BESA President’s Lunch that wider adoption of off-site construction and digital procurement would be essential to deliver crucial projects like nuclear power stations; transport infrastructure and housing.
He said: “The UK’s major infrastructure pipeline and housing needs will simply not be achievable unless we work in a completely different way.”
Mr Hopkinson, managing director of E Poppleton & Son, who is is serving a second year as BESA president, said that revitalising delivery methods would improve productivity while helping to tackle skills shortages and could alleviate payment problems too.
He added that the UK’s current shortage of construction manpower could fuel an off-site revolution.
He said: “The UK construction industry simply cannot deliver everything competently in a world of increasing opportunities and demands for higher standards with a shrinking pool of resource and talent.”
He pointed to the fact that building a third runway at Heathrow Airport would require more than 15,000 site workers, unless delivered differently and that the two proposed nuclear power stations could each require more than 6,000 site-based technical staff.
He said: “These numbers are simply unsustainable. We must deliver much more of our product in a factory environment. This will give us a far better chance of finishing projects to a high standard and provide better and safer working conditions for our people.”
He urged the HVAC sector to take its lead from the way the manufacturing industry transformed itself through greater automation and improved production processes. He predicted that in the next two to five years, there would be a surge in the use of offsite and modular construction; much greater collaboration between organisations and professions; growth in the use of digital technology and procurement; and more (and more diverse) apprenticeships.
He added that BESA would increasingly be called upon to lead this transformation by setting new technical standards and to help businesses provide evidence of their competence and compliance. He said the multiple shocks experienced by the industry in the past 18 months had made the building engineering sector’s “professional credibility” more important than ever before.
The UK’s departure from the EU in March will make it harder for project developers to source large amounts of site labour when the pressure is on, but Mr Hopkinson described this as a potentially significant long-term benefit of Brexit. “We will now have to ensure that everyone has completed the right training and has appropriate skills for how we want to work,” he said.
He also told the audience that increasing the proportion of building engineering work completed off-site would make the industry more appealing to potential recruits. The collaboration needed to make off-site successful would also gradually diminish the sector’s problems with late payment.
He concluded: “Many of the things that make our industry so unattractive to young people will be transformed. If it becomes safer, cleaner and more technologically driven – and less adversarial – it becomes a much more appealing career.”