Government published its Industrial Strategy as a Green Paper – The objective of the modern industrial strategy is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country.

The paper focuses upon growth through science, technology and innovation rather than through established, traditional industries; and poses several questions as part of a consultation process that closes on 17 April 2017. Highlights of the paper relevant to construction product manufacturers and distributors can be found in a special blog by the CPA. Areas covered include, infrastructure investment, developing skills and Investing in science, research and innovation.

Infrastructure investment

One of the elements of the Industrial Strategy is investment in infrastructure, much of which was announced in the Autumn statement.

Recently the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) have published an update to its first annual assessment of Highways England’s performance, published originally in July 2016. The report outlines plans for improving England’s motorways and trunk roads and managing the existing network better. And the National Infrastructure Commission has published its Corporate Plan 2017 – 2020 setting out its objectives and business activity plan, all helping to support the commitment from government. This together with foreign investment in the Northern Power House, UK infrastructure is forecast to be a growth sector for 2017.

CITB, together with Experian, have published Industry Insights –  Construction Skills Network Forecasts 2017–2021. CITB has forecast growth in the construction sector will be reliant on the raft of planned infrastructure projects in the pipeline, saying “construction remains in good shape to weather potentially difficult economic headwinds.” Yet CITB flag concerns when it comes to skills and labour saying “we know we are facing a shortfall if we are going to keep up with demand.”

Bridging the construction skills gap

As part of the Industrial Strategy various measures are being put in place to bolster skills. Such as putting in place proper systems of technical education, provide higher technical education in STEM subjects and to radically improve the quality and coverage of careers advice.

There have been a number of initiatives by the construction sector to address the skills gap. For example recently Build UK and Collab Group launched a new further education course aimed at providing the training needed to embark on a construction apprenticeship. Welsh government has pledges to invest in high quality apprenticeships, a move welcomed by Ifan Glyn, Director of FMB Cymru, who states “the importance of prioritising higher level apprenticeships capable of giving maximum return on investment is paramount.”

Meanwhile the HMRC has opened its second consultation on the Apprenticeship Levy.  And Scotland faces potential complexity and administrative costs following a decision by Scottish Government on how it manages the Apprenticeship Levy.

CIMCIG have also launched an L3 Foundation Course in Marketing specifically for the Construction Industry, with Competitive Advantage a major contributor to the development of the programme.

Innovative approaches to construction

A new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to focus on robotics, clean energy and biotechnology will also be available. So perhaps one answer to the skills challenge is to adapt and change our approach to how we build? Indeed the objective of the strategy is to work smarter to grow prosperity.

A recent study predicted the use of virtual reality and augmented reality among CAD users will increase 140% over the next five years and Dr. Dragana Nikolic, for BIM+ asks are we on the brink of another digital revolution?

Advances in material science are also having an impact on the ecology, budgets, safety and life-span of our buildings, something showcased in SuperMaterial, an exhibition of material innovations at the Building Centre. Michael Pawlyn, biomimicry architect writes for RIBAJ about how biomimicry provides many of the solutions we will need during the sustainability revolution: super-efficient structures, high strength biodegradable composites, self-cleaning surfaces, zero waste systems, low energy ways of creating fresh water and many others. And researchers are now experimenting with using the building abilities of bacteria in the human world. For example, we can make self-healing concretes that use bacteria to re-mineralise cracks.

Technology-lead trends such as BIM, Smart Factories, The Circular Economy and Virtual Supply Chains provide an opportunity for the construction product manufacturer to innovate and gain a lead over competitors. Many of these topics will be covered in the Ecobuild Conference programme. With sessions looking to answer questions such as: Is the future of construction really offsite? Homes for all – which is the best way forward? Brexit – what are the challenges and opportunities for UK construction?

Yet when it comes to modernisation Denise Chevin, editor of Construction Manager warns those that follow the Farmer vision don’t always reap the benefits, saying “It’s all very well pushing technology and new methods of working, but more evidence of efficiencies and impact on the bottom line is needed before we can expect widespread acceptance.”

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