A key finding of our study was that inadequate skills are a major contributor to errors in the construction process. This section sets out what we found and what we suggest should be done.
Skills to Focus On
The graph below shows how our study group would distribute expenditure to address the problem of error in construction. There is clearly a keen interest in improving skills as well as creating an appropriate culture in relation to quality and error reduction.
Detailed discussions with the study group suggest that the skills of most interest are related to planning, communication and supervision. This was true whether we were talking about trade skills or design skills. Discussions with our study group revealed a rich set of competencies that are required and these are summarised below:
- To have and evaluate ideas against appropriate subjective and objective criteria
- To exercise judgement and make good decisions
- To be able to deal appropriately with change
- To communicate effectively using means appropriate to the circumstances
- To form and maintain effective working relationships.
Base Knowledge Requirements
All of these competencies depend to some extent on having a broad knowledge of the whole process. A common observation was that poor decisions were often made, because of a lack of understanding of the implications. For example: designers who don’t know about the construction or commissioning process; buyers who don’t understand the implications of substituting one drainage pipe system for another; or contractors who don’t understand the significance of overloading a key structural element during installation.
Getting the Culture Right
As well as better knowledge of the overall procees it is important that all concerned develop and exercise respect for the others involved. It is often the case that a lack of knowledge of what others do goes with a lack of respect for them or their role and this greatly impedes effective relations and communication.
It is also critical that people need to want to do the job well. They need to have the right frame of mind and to believe in what they do. This applies equally to the person making sure that the site is a fit place to do the work well by keeping it clean and tidy as to the designer who will want to make sure that his or her details are clear and unambiguous so as to eliminate error.
These themes are common with those found in Cultural Awareness and Behavioural Safety Programmes that are currently used by the Industry.
Without wanting to diminish the Safety messages one proposal would be to adapt these programmes to include an approach to quality.
It is important that all concerned develop and exercise respect for the others involved.
Experience in developing a more effective Health & Safety culture has taught us the importance of Clients and Shareholders in creating an environment that requires change led from the top level of construction companies. As such we recommend a programme of briefings targeted at major clients and appropriate industry analysts to raise awareness about the true cost of error.
We know that many people working in our industry take pride in their work and are frustrated when things go wrong. A key objective of the campaign described above is to get people to take pride in their work and to engage with reducing the amount of errors that are made.
We recommend that, as appropriate, we make use of the sort of change management techniques that have been deployed over the last few years in relationship to Health & Safety
The Skills Development Programme
The points above form the basis for a skills development programme that we believe needs to be implemented across the construction sector. Recognising the complexity and scale of the sector we propose a two pronged approach:
a. New entrants to the construction sector through initial training and qualification
b. Existing workers in the construction sector through on the job training or CPD and re-qualification.
For new entrants our proposal is to work with those responsible for the qualification standards to ensure that the required competencies are identified at the correct level. In relation to trade qualifications this means working with relevant sector skills councils, including Construction Skills, and influencing the National Occupational Standards.
The Trailblazer Apprenticeships are a key entry route to the sector and we would look to work with this programme to ensure that the competencies described above are properly addressed through the apprenticeships.
In relation to Professional Qualifications this means working with the relevant Professional Institutions. In relation to existing workers we would work with those responsible for requalification or revalidation (ie through carding schemes) or for CPD through the Professional Institutions.
We believe that there will be a significant demand for training and development in this area from major employers and we expect both in-house and external commercial training companies to play a key role in this sort of skills development.
We would also seek to influence those responsible for the provision of skills training to develop a high quality offer in this area. Key players would include the CITB, CECA, FE and HE institutions, and the training arms of the Professional Institutions for example.
The techniques that we should use In all cases we believe that there is a need for blended learning techniques to be developed and implemented to facilitate efficient and cost effective training. Examples
of the more innovative sorts of techniques that we would expect to see are set out below. To develop broad knowledge of the construction sector we would advocate the use of tools like Engineering
This is an online game which helps people to develop a broad knowledge of the construction industry through reward based game play. Similarly, we would expect construction activity simulators to be used to help develop planning skills.
For example Concrete Sim is a concept for an online simulator of concrete pours where the player plans and undertakes a concrete pour in a simulator environment. This is just a simplified version of a flight simulator but would allow the player to develop skills of planning and hone their skills in optimising activities and dealing with unexpected events like a pump failure in the middle of the operation.
Online videos showing key construction activities are already a key resource for construction workers and we advocate the development of a full and kite marked set of online videos for the UK construction industry. These would help in the development of skills both at the time of qualification but also serve as a refresher providing just in time competence!
Similarly, tools such as Student Studio could provide an excellent and cost effective means by which people develop an overview of the whole construction process.
Student Studio is an online platform that provides a range of structured role-play-based construction and engineering projects. Finally, the Constructionarium and the Big Rig are examples of educational techniques that allow the user to develop their construction skills outside the high pressure environment of the construction site.
We believe that the CITB should play a key role in developing such techniques.