March 10 2017

Construction’s biggest challenge

Neville Webb, the Institute for Work Based Learning’s Director of Construction ProgrammesDuring National Apprenticeships Week, Director of Construction Programmes Neville Webb discusses how construction degree apprenticeships can help reinvigorate collaboration across the industry.

Apart from the obvious large scale challenges like a sluggish pipeline of government-funded projects, an overheating supply chain and a massive skills shortage there is one significant challenge which impacts on the very soul of the construction industry – collaboration.

In the 1970s, Britain’s construction industry suffered at the hands of a highly-unionised labour force and its direct response to an overall lack of empathy by management with the common worker.

Job protection strategies such as job demarcation were born out of fear of job losses and they placed a strangle hold around the construction site. It made the simplest of tasks a convoluted process involving more people and resources than were strictly necessary and prevented efficacious programming.

That was 40 years ago, with old fashioned work cultures on both sides stifling creativity and individualism. But fast forward into the 21st century and we’re facing a similar issue at professional level.

Management is stratified between those in similar roles doing the same kind of work and rarely crossing boundaries between disciplines or functionality. People are separated by the very bonds that tie them together, go into any large construction site and you’ll see it for yourself echoed in the welfare and accommodation arrangements billeting functional groups together rather than the work-face zone or outputs they share.

Education and training in the sector needs radical change. The industry needs to focus on a coherent strategy for collaborative team working at site management level.

The construction industry has always had a reputation as a hard, itinerant, dirty fingernail and very dangerous environment, where the ‘craic’ as some might put it, was strong.  Strong enough to counter the negatives and make the work almost bearable.

The erosion of collaboration threatens to overturn all we consider to be commensurate with smooth and efficient working. It’s one of the key attractions into the industry for many people – the unique site culture. And yet, paradoxically, this culture is being slowly eroded by the ever-increasing lamination of command and control management.

Tier upon tier of subcontractor layers together with columns of specialist professionals forming a matrix of communication confusion. Education and training in the sector needs a radical change.

The industry needs to focus on a coherent strategy for collaborative team working at site management level and a significant contribution to this is the ‘customs, practice and habits’ people bring to their role.

Degree apprenticeships

At Middlesex, we are developing a fully integrated Construction Management Degree Apprenticeship across the key site disciplines where collaborative learning is a fundamental part of the process.

It will help provide a more enriched learning experience and will contribute to a better understanding of how colleagues’ roles combine to create a successful project outcome.

This suite of construction management programmes has been designed to aid transformative change within the industry by acknowledging and promoting:

  • The gradual acceptance of the role of the ‘Construction Manager’ as a significant multi-faceted management role within construction organisations and now a recognised professional destination in its own right
  • The recognition of how the management of the construction process on any site or project can only be successfully achieved if a high level of collaboration between all the parties (particularly the professional team) is achieved
  • The adoption of BIM as a management tool requires a significant culture change to facilitate effective use
  • The deployment of Integrated Project Delivery to ensure a ‘one-team’ approach without unnecessary ‘man-marking’ where duplication and omissions in process are minimised.

Each of the key construction site management team leader roles has a Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship associated with it.

These apprenticeships lead to honours degree qualifications, are work-based and are designed to have an interdependent structure based on common and shared management themes within their specific disciplines.

That is, they all address the constructor’s ‘holy trinity’ of cost, quality and delivery plus other shared themes and they all address the needs of their personal construction businesses. The apprenticeships are also designed to enable apprentices to gain relevant professional body recognition.

An inexperienced practitioner can join the Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship programme and could complete at Technician level and gain a Certificate of Higher Education. Or alternatively, complete at Level 5 and gain a Diploma of Higher Education or go on to complete the Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship in any of the following fields:

  • Construction Site Management
  • Civil Engineering Site Management
  • Construction Quantity Surveyor
  • Building Services Engineering Site Management
  • Construction Design Management

Experienced practitioners with no formal qualifications but over five years’ experience in the role could join the Level 6 top-up degree as a Degree Apprentice or if self-sponsoring, as a mature student.

The new apprenticeship initiative has the potential to transform the construction sector. By developing fully rounded construction professionals that have the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours that the industry requires, we can shape the future of the physical environment we all live and work in for the better.

To discuss the options and how Construction management can apply to yourself email corporate@mdx.ac.uk or telephone 02084115050. I will also be attending the MIPIM Convention from 13th-17th March 2017 and will be available for meetings.

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